The University of Wisconsin has slipped a measure into the state budget bill by way of the University System Omnibus Motion. Item 27:
Liability Protections for Scientific Researchers: Specify that current law provisions prohibiting crimes against animals would not apply to persons engaged in bona fide scientific research at an educational or research institution or persons who are authorized or otherwise regulated under federal law to utilize animals for these purposes.
Basically, the University does not want to follow Wisconsin’s Crimes Against Animal laws. The university is seeking these changes with absolutely no public discussion or debate.
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According to the Cap Times, scientists at colleges and universities were granted these protections June 3 by the Joint Finance Committee in measure No. 27 in this omnibus motion, which deals mostly with UW System budget issues. No. 27 is disguised in language which demonstrates UW’s new freedoms and flexibilities state campuses were awarded from state oversight. This measure received no public review, comment or feedback.
The omnibus motion was authorized by Joint Finance committee members Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls and Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend. Allegedly the bill was introduced and passed at the Joint Committee on Finance. Not surprisingly however, this measure like the ag-gag bills, are not receiving bi-partisan support.
UW-Madison administrators started seeking such a measure after recent legal action put a significant scare into the university’s animal research enterprise. In August 2009, Madison-based Alliance for Animals lodged a complaint against UW-Madison researchers who used sheep in sometimes fatal decompression experiments. Then District Attorney Brian Blanchard agreed these studies violated a Wisconsin law against killing animals by decompression, but he refused to prosecute, saying it was not a wise use of resources.
The Alliance for Animals and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) then filed a petition in March of 2010 asking that criminal charges be brought against five UW-Madison officials and several researchers for violating a state law when 26 sheep died as a result of Navy-funded experiments on decompression sickness. Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith assigned Madison attorney David Geier to the case as a special prosecutor in June of last year, and he was to conclude whether animal cruelty charges should be filed.
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Although Geier determined last month that university employees did not violate a law that forbids killing animals through decompression, he also scolded university officials for not having a better system in place for keeping track of state and federal laws.
“It belies common sense that a research university, such as the UW, does not have a consistent review of both state and federal laws and regulations which apply to activities which take place on the campus and within research laboratories or facilities,” Geier wrote in his report.
UW-Madison’s animal research enterprise has had to answer to a string of charges of violating animal welfare regulations. After federal investigators found multiple campus animal welfare violations in 2009, both the National Institute of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service conducted a rare joint investigation on UW’s campus. That investigation is currently ongoing.