New cattle rustling legislation is on its way to the Oklahoma governor’s desk after being approved unanimously in the state senate this week.
Supporters of the bill particularly are thrilled that it now will be possible for prosecutors to charge suspected cattle rustlers with a separate offense for each head stolen.
House Bill 2504, by state Rep. John Pfeiffer, also increases the fine for theft of livestock and implements of husbandry to three times the value of animals and machinery, not to exceed $500,000.
“The cost of cattle rustling is huge in rural areas,” Pfeiffer, R-Mulhall said. “The potential profit for rustlers is large due and so it takes a large fine to deter such crimes.”
Other members of the caucus praised the legislation.
“Both parties were on the same page on this issue; I appreciate the bipartisan support of our colleagues of this important measure to deter cattle rustling,” Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka said.
The bill passed through the state house on March 10 with overwhelming support.
“Cattle rustling has a tremendous negative economic impact on its victims,” Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang said. “It is very fitting that there is a large fine to deter thieves from hurting the livelihood of cattle ranchers in our state.”
In an interview with News On 6 last month, a representative with the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association said that it could take up to three years for a rancher to make up for the monetary loss of a single cow’s production and genetics that have been developed.
The OCA lobbied vigorously for the change in law, which originally was authored in 1910 and revised only a few times since.
"As a former prosecutor, I know that the size of the consequence affects how willing criminals are to commit a crime,” Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha said. “This legislation should have an effect on the incidents of cattle rustling.”
Other state lawmakers agreed.
“Ranchers form the backbone of Oklahoma’s rural society,” said Rep. Jeff Coody. “Theft of their livestock, and therefore their livelihood is untenable and won’t be tolerated. That’s what this bill says.”
OCA said it simply wanted the punishment to fit the crime.
“People work their whole lives to raise their livestock, and it’s a business and it's a way of life,” OCA’s Jeff Jaronek said last month.
Cattle theft has been on the rise in the past two years in Oklahoma, and cattle prices have shot upward, both making it imperative to tweak the law, OCA said.
A previous News On 6 investigation found that not only has cattle theft increased in the past two years, but nearly 80 percent of cattle thieves are prosecuted for drug-related crimes or have a history with drugs.