The AETA was originally introduced as S. 1926 in the Senate by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) in October 2005 and later cosponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Sen. Inhofe, then chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, held two congressional hearings late in 2005 examining the illegal actions of animal extremists. At the second of those hearings, Dr. Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon and animal rights activist, testified that he stood by public statements he made advocating the murder of researchers in order to save animals. In November 2005, Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) introduced a House companion bill, H.R. 4239, which was nearly identical to Inhofe’s bill except for an omission of a death penalty clause, language which was seen as a potential stumbling block for the bill.
By February 2006, NABR created the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition (AEPC) to engage the biomedical research community in a grassroots campaign needed to underscore public support for the legislation once it was considered on the floor of the House and Senate. The Coalition, which was comprised of universities and medical schools, pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies, contract research organizations (CRO’s) and non-profit organizations, circulated letters of support to every member of Congress. The Coalition also provided resources for the biomedical research community to send individual letters and phone calls to Congress. In the end, the grassroots effort generated an unprecedented 11,000 letters and phone calls to Capitol Hill from individuals supporting biomedical research.
In May 2006, Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, convened a hearing examining H.R. 4239. At this hearing, Dr. Michelle Basso, an assistant professor of physiology at the University of Wisconsin, testified about threats and harassment she endured while researching Parkinson’s disease because of her work with non-human primates. The U.S. Department of Justice also provided testimony highlighting the need to enact legislation that would punish animal extremists as terrorists.
In August 2006, UCLA researcher Dario Ringach made a dramatic public announcement to the terrorists saying “You win,” and stated he was quitting research because of threats made against him and his family over several months. Dr. Ringach had completed eight years of a 10-year NIH-funded vision research project with non-human primates at the university. In a statement, UCLA confirmed the reports, and denounced the “illegal terrorist activities of some animal rights groups.” One month prior, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) claimed credit for leaving a “Molotov cocktail” incendiary device on the front doorstep of a 70-year-old California woman’s home. According to the FBI, the device was intended for a UCLA researcher who lived next door to the woman, but fortunately it failed to ignite. As a result of these incidents, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) requested a new and improved Senate bill be introduced so she could join Sen. Inhofe as an original cosponsor. This new bill, S. 3880, contained technical improvements meticulously negotiated between Republicans and Democrats, and included the addition of a section expressly protecting First Amendment rights of free speech in order to address concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union. On September 30, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent without objection.
On November 13, 2006, Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), the original sponsor of H.R. 4239, made statements on the House floor in support of the improved bill. The House of Representatives later passed S. 3880 by voice vote without any objection. President George W. Bush signed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act into law on November 27, 2006 as Public Law 109-374. For a one-page analysis on the AETA, please see http://www.nabr.org/pdf/AETAanalysis.pdf.