Arizona House Passes Bill Easing Up on Penalty for Livestock Abuse

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A bill that was blasted by animal-rights advocates as an "ag gag" proposal was watered down a bit before being passed by the House yesterday.

In its initial form, House Bill 2587 would have made it a crime to not turn over evidence of livestock abuse within five days -- which would have thwarted long-term exposés carried out by undercover operations. That provision was cut out.

However, the bill as passed still makes the penalty for abusing livestock a misdemeanor. In current law, any "cruel mistreatment" of an animal is a felony.

See also:
-Arizona's Controversial Livestock-Abuse Bill Passes Through Committee

"This bill makes it a misdemeanor on a first offense to intentionally torture to death an animal, and I don't see how you can vote for that," Republican Representative John Kavanagh said. "I don't know how I could face my constituents [if] I do that."

Kavanagh's one of the most ardent supporters of animal-rights laws at the Legislature. Kavanagh and Democratic Senator Steve Farley were recently given "humane legislator awards" by the Humane Society.

This bill also says counties and cities can't make tougher ordinances about the treatment of livestock, and says it's not livestock abuse if a person is exercising "normal, good husbandry practices."

Kavanagh suggested that if a farmer were to kill a dog that was used on a farm, that would be a misdemeanor. If that dog were a pet in someone's backyard, that's a felony.

The bill passed the House on a 33-24 vote. Members of both parties were on both sides of the vote, and lawmakers from both urban and rural areas were on both sides as well.

Republican Representative Brenda Barton, a sponsor of the bill, proposed changes to the bill yesterday that were adopted, including stripping the alleged "ag gag" provisions. That amendment also took out a provision that would have given the Arizona Department of Agriculture and its small investigative force control of all livestock-abuse investigations. The Arizona Police Association has been strongly opposed to that provision.

Despite these changes, Kavanagh said the Humane Society and other law enforcement representatives still opposed the bill.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill -- which has been supported by various farming interest-groups -- have insisted that the proposed penalty for farmers caught abusing livestock is still very serious, because they could lose their business or farm due to a conviction.

Kavanagh looked into that claim, and said he talked to someone who's been with the agriculture department for nearly two decades, who said that no one's ever lost their business due to an animal-abuse conviction.

The bill has now been sent to the Senate.

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