An unfortunate casualty of the state budget crisis is a legislative committee’s decision to strip strict penalties from an animal cruelty law because they are too expensive to enforce.

Under the bill as proposed, L.D. 1598 would have made it a Class C crime to inflict cruelty on 25 or more animals. That classification is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

But lawmakers on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee stripped that language when they found it would cost $27,000 just to implement it.

Enforcing animal protection laws is pricey already. Just three investigations in 2008 cost the Department of Agriculture over $660,000, the committee was told.

But all law enforcement is expensive, and we don’t apply this kind of cost-benefit analysis for other crimes.

A crime, whether against a person or property, is a crime and enforcement is just the cost of living in a safe community.

Animal cruelty is a serious offense, and the committee’s decision to limit the penalty could be read by some as proof that the state doesn’t think so.

If the law passes without the potential for a felony charge, a deterrent effect will be lost. An unscrupulous farmer or breeder will know that the worst thing that could happen would be fines or maybe a little jail time. Some might be willing to take that risk.

It’s too bad that the state is so hard up it has to make this kind of calculation.