A controversial bill that would separate livestock abuse from other forms of animal cruelty moved through the House Agriculture and Water Committee Tuesday.
House Bill 2587 has generated backlash from organizations ranging from animal-rights groups to Sheriff Joe Arpaio since its introduction. At the public hearing, private citizens and representatives from various organizations across the Valley spent nearly two hours voicing their thoughts on the bill, resulting in some heated moments.
One of the bill's sponsors, Republican Representative Kate Brophy McGee, gave emotional testimony defending the bill, and another sponsor, Republican Representative Brenda Barton, first gave a warning and then threatened to remove the public from the hearing after some members of the audience clapped out of turn for those opposing the legislation.
While the main purpose of the bill is to classify livestock under the Arizona Department of Agriculture and address other forms of animal cruelty, the bill contains other controversial statutes. Livestock abusers would be guilty of a high-level misdemeanor, a lighter punishment than the low-level felony currently in place. Those who have photo or video evidence of animal cruelty would be allotted five days to report them or otherwise be guilty of a misdemeanor. Opponents of the bill argue that five days is insufficient time to gain enough evidence to use against abusers, while supporters counter that the sooner animal abuse is reported, the sooner it can be stopped.
The bill also prohibits animal hoarding and gives the ADA full control over investigations, in effect taking power away from sheriffs' offices and police departments.
The Arizona Humane Society and others likened the bill to so-called "ag gag" bills, which opponents argue are designed to keep whistle-blowers from exposing livestock cruelties.
The bill was amended to state that the ADA should cooperate with other law enforcement agencies. Many people who spoke against the bill had voiced their concerns that, should HB 2587 pass, the ADA wouldn't have the resources to effectively deal with the number of livestock-abuse cases in Arizona.
"[Police] have a good working relationship with [the ADA], the problem is the language," Arizona Police Association lobbyist Mike Williams said. "The bill's best intentions may be to curb animal cruelty by involving the department, but without certified officers, you run into problems."
Although more people spoke against rather than for HB 2587, every livestock group that sent a representative supported the bill, including the Arizona Farm Bureau, the Arizona Horse Council, the Arizona Pork Council, and the Arizona Cattlemen's Association.
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The amended version of the bill passed with a 6-2 vote. Democratic Representative Catherine Miranda verbally debated on her vote, passing once before she voted no.
"I truly believe this issue merits debate and willingness from the whole chamber," Miranda said.
Barton agreed that the bill would be looked at further.
"We will continue to groom this legislation as it moves from the committee into the full deliberating body," Barton said.