State Sen. Barry Hobbins, a Saco Democrat, is proposing to increase penalties for large animal breeding facilities that violate state rules.

Operators of large animal breeding facilities — often called puppy mills — that don’t follow state rules could be charged with a felony under a measure lawmakers will consider in January. State Sen. Barry Hobbins, a Saco Democrat, says the issue was brought to light with a 2007 case in which police and animal welfare officers raided a Buxton kennel and found 250 dogs and puppies, many suffering from serious health problems.

Despite the seriousness of the case, Hobbins says the only charges were misdemeanors. “I’ve been very pleased but surprised with the intensity and the sincerity of individuals aho have a great deal of compassion about their domestic animals,” Hobbins told Capitol News Service. “And it is a real tribute that individuals want to make sure that there will be deterrent mechanisms in place.”

Animal rights groups are praising Hobbins’ draft legislation. They say any bill to help law enforcement go after puppy mill operators that abuse and neglect animals is worthwhile legislation.