Animal-welfare advocates are calling on Governor Doug Ducey to veto a bill that the advocates say weakens the state's animal-cruelty laws.
House Bill 2150, passed by the Arizona Legislature this week, creates a new classification of cruelty toward livestock and poultry, separate from other animals.
"HB 2150 simply creates new problems," Republican Senator John Kavanagh said. "That's why law enforcement . . . is opposed to this bill."
Kavanagh and Democratic Senator Steve Farley, the biggest animal-welfare defenders in the Legislature, both argued against the bill, which is now on Governor Ducey's desk.
The Arizona Humane Society also is making a strong push for the governor to veto the bill, with its president, Steve Hansen, sending a plea to Ducey not to let it become law.
"This legislation weakens Arizona's laws against animal abuse by reducing the penalty for various acts of cruelty to farm animals, omitting the crime of 'abandonment' of farm animals and preventing any city or county from enacting reasonable animal cruelty laws that address specific community needs," Hansen says in a letter to Ducey. "Indeed, it removes protections that all animals in Arizona have benefited from for decades and instead puts the welfare of certain animals at substantial risk -- without any corresponding benefit or legitimate justification."
Senator Farley explained that he didn't even understand why the agricultural industry would see such a bill as beneficial.
"If the public sees the agricultural community as trying to get themselves out of animal-cruelty statutes, they're going to ask themselves, 'What are they hiding?'" Farley said. "Most farmers, most agricultural people, are treating their animals well. And if that is the case, which I believe it is, why would you need to exempt yourself from animal-cruelty statutes?"
Senate President Andy Biggs confirmed that the agricultural industry did indeed want this law changed, and came directly to him with that proposal. He argued that it still provides serious protections for livestock.
But Kavanagh, who also fought against a similar bill last year, said this bill is "fertile ground for the development of loopholes." Kavanagh, a former cop, also noted that it's fishy that the bill requires any investigations of livestock abuse to be brought to the attention of the state's agriculture department.
"[HB] 2150 requires police officers who are investigating livestock abuse to notify civilians in the Department of Agriculture, thereby potentially compromising ongoing investigations -- or should I say, investigations that never get started," Kavanagh said. "No other area of law enforcement requires such an outside notification."
The bill passed the House by a fairly wide margin, but only on a 16-12 vote in the Senate. There were members of both parties on each side of the vote, with some urban Republicans voting against it, and some rural Democrats voting for it.
"Cruelty is cruelty and we know we can do better for both the animals and the people of Arizona," the Humane Society's Hansen says.
The Humane Society and lawmakers concerned with animal welfare said the animal-rights groups were not invited to be involved in the crafting of the bill.
Click here for more specifics on the bill.
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