WASHINGTON A bill introduced in the Senate would crack down on animal-rights activists who make threats or commit violence against people engaged in research using animals.
The bill, which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced with Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma last Friday, would toughen federal criminal penalties for causing physical harm to people or making threats to researchers or their families.
It would also boost penalties for causing economic harm to companies or universities engaged in research using animals that are frequently destroyed in the course of lab work.
Proposed penalties in the bill, which is a modification of legislation Inhofe had previously offered, include life in prison for incidents in which someone is killed.
It's unlikely the measure will reach the Senate floor this year, with just about a month left before Congress expects to recess for the fall campaign.
The killing of animals for research, along with non-lethal practices that activists say amount to animal torture, has spurred some to violence.
"The deplorable actions of these eco-terrorists threaten to impede important medical progress in California and across the country," Feinstein said in a statement.
Her staff said the senator got involved in the issue after Californians targeted by animal-rights groups contacted her office.
Inhofe has held hearings into the issue, one of which in October 2005 featured an exchange with Dr. Jerry Vlasak, a Southern California trauma surgeon who is a leader of the North American Animal Liberation Front.
The senator asked Vlasak if he stood by his earlier statement about animal researchers that "I don't think you'd have to kill, assassinate too many. I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million or 10 million nonhuman lives."
"You're advocating the murder of individuals, isn't that correct?" Inhofe asked.
"I made that statement, and I stand by that statement," Vlasak said, saying animal researchers are engaged in "speciesism."
"These animals are being terrorized, murdered and killed by the millions every day," he added.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.