FOX 11 Investigates: Why did animal sexual abuse bill stall?

Wisconsin state Capitol (WLUK file photo/Scott Hurley)

(WLUK) -- A bill designed to increase penalties for people who sexually abuse animals is dead, at least for now. Lawmakers tried to strengthen the laws because of the latest case involving Sterling Rachwal, a man who has been in and out of the legal system for decades for abusing horses.

"It’s just been going on forever," said Renee Vandenberg who has been operating Cornerstone Farm in the Town of Kaukauna for the past 20 years.

With recent cases of animal abuse involving Rachwal, Vandenberg says she made some changes.

"We installed security lights and we're thinking about installing security cameras," she told FOX 11 Investigates.

That' not all she's done. She also worked to change the state's animal abuse laws. She travelled to Madison to testify on a bill that would increase the penalties for sexual abuse of an animal by making it a felony. Her hopes came crashing down this week when the Wisconsin State Senate failed to act on the bill.

"I screamed. I yelled. I got mad. I walked around. I thought, what did I do wrong as a citizen that's trying to bring this to the forefront. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently?" Vandenberg said.

The effort was led by Rep. State Rep. Andre Jacque.

"It's really tough to get this close to the finish line and not be able to make it there," Jacque told FOX 11.

Jacque says he has not been given an explanation about why the bill didn't come up for a vote. But he says there could be a number of reasons.

"I think indifference is certainly part of it. I think the revolting subject matter, I mean just how disturbing and depraved it is when you have animal sexual abuse. People aren't comfortable talking about it," Jacque said.

Former State Senator and horse owner Mike Ellis of Neenah has another opinion.

"They could have had a voice vote on this bill. The whole thing would have taken 30 seconds," Ellis said in an interview with FOX 11 Investigates.

Ellis spent 40 years in the State Senate. He strongly supported the bill and went searching for answers after it stalled.

"I think it's politics," Ellis said. "And there's some people that don't like Andre Jacque."

Ellis added, "I talked with a number of different senators privately and they said well, they won't schedule it because they don't want him to get the credit for it."

Jacque is running for the State Senate this year and will face an opponent in the Republican primary.

When asked by FOX 11 Investigates if the fact that this was his bill had anything to do with it not passing, Jacque replied, "Well, I would certainly hope not. I have a lot of support from my colleagues in both the Assembly and the Senate. But as people know, I have not always well, I guess, I haven't been afraid to ruffle feathers or step on toes."

Vandenberg says despite the setback, horse owners won't give up that easily.

"If you find out you're going against political powers, there's nothing we can do. And that's the most frustrating thing about it all," Vandenberg said. "It's crazy it didn't get up for a vote and that's going to make us talk about it even more."

FOX 11 Investigates reached out to the Senate Majority leader for an explanation about what happened, we have not heard back.

A spokesperson for Senate President Roger Roth told FOX 11 Investigates there were several hundred bills to look at on the final day of the session. The animal abuse bill simply didn't make it on the calendar.

The spokesperson says Roth has no issue with the contents of the bill and adds it could still be passed if another special session is called this year.

If a special session is not called, supporters of the bill say they will try again next year.

As for Rachwal, he is on probation after pleading no contest to animal cruelty charges for incidents with horses in Brown and Manitowoc counties.

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