Include gamecocks in making cruelty to animals a felony
The Legislature is considering a bill to make aggravated cruelty to some animals a felony.
AS President Bush prepares to sign into law a measure aimed at cracking down on cockfighting, the Legislature appears to be bypassing an opportunity to join 33 other states where it is a felony. A bill that would make aggravated cruelty to animals a felony exempts poultry and should be amended before final approval to remove the exemption.
The federal legislation passed the Senate by voice vote and in the House by a lopsided margin, with the support of Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono. It will make transporting the shipment of fighting dogs or roosters or implements used in cockfights a felony, punishable by a three-year prison term.
Interstate or foreign transportation of birds for fighting purposes has been a federal misdemeanor for more than 30 years. A loophole that permitted transporting them to states where cockfighting is legal was removed four years ago. New Mexico banned the bloodsport last month, leaving Louisiana as the only state where it is legal -- and that state's legislature is under pressure to enact a ban.
A Waianae farmer who raises about 400 fighting roosters has said, "We usually bring in new roosters and hens for new bloodlines and try to improve our flock. You need new blood, different genes." The new federal law will put him at risk for continuing to do so.
The federal transport ban has been ineffective in preventing interstate transporting fighting roosters across state lines, but that might be because it has been a misdemeanor. Federal law-enforcement officials are reluctant to put large resources toward prosecuting misdemeanor violations.
Pamela Burns, president of the Hawaiian Humane Society, said the challenge is proving that roosters being shipped across state lines are heading for cockfights. "Already," she said, "we know that there are people who are shipping roosters out of Hawaii and they're signing affidavits saying that they're going to a rooster show." Law enforcement agencies will have to find birds in a cockfight and trace their source to prove that such a claim is false, Burns said.
The Legislature is considering a bill that would make cruelty to "pet animals" a felony, carrying a jail term of up to five years. Poultry are specifically excluded as pets.
Cockfight enthusiasts have long claimed that cockfighting is integral to Hawaii's "diverse ethnicities," although it was declared illegal in 1884 under the reign of King Kalakaua. Nevertheless, that claim has put pressure on legislators to minimize its illegality, even though it goes hand-in-hand with high-stakes gambling.
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