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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to make cockfighting a felony in Utah passed the Utah Legislature on Wednesday.
SB134 would make it a class A misdemeanor on the first offense, a class B misdemeanor on the second offense, and a third-degree felony on the third offense.
During debate in the House late Tuesday night, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapelton, said while he has voted against this bill in previous years — as this is the third year in a row the Legislature has considered it — the bill now protects bird breeders and spectators who attend game fowl fighting events, and it only targets the organizers of the cockfighting events.
Gibson said Utah is the only Western state where cockfighting is not a felony, and the current class B misdemeanor is not enough to discourage cockfighters from coming to the state.
Bill sponsor Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, has said cockfighters view misdemeanor penalty fines as a business expense in comparison to the potential gambling winnings.
Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, spoke against the bill and said making cockfighting a felony is “absurd” because chickens are killed every day to be eaten, and it’s in roosters’ “nature” to fight each other.
Tanner said lawmakers “shouldn’t be putting men in prison and destroying their lives,” to punish them for game fowl fighting.
Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, said while he “hated the bill,” he would support it because he was sick of people thinking he supported cockfighting due to his opposition to the bill in previous years.
“Simply making it a third-degree felony is likely going to have zero affect,” Anderegg said. “However, I’m going to support the bill because I absolutely do not support cockfighting.”
He called SB134 the “dumbest bill in the world,” but told lawmakers to vote for it and “be done with it.”
Throughout the debate, lawmakers cracked jokes and laughed. Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said while lawmakers might consider the debate humorous, he wanted to give a “sincere perspective” on the issue as someone who once opposed the bill but now supports it.
Christensen spoke of the cruel nature of cockfighting, and said the issue involves animal cruelty.
He said if Utah doesn’t allow casinos or gambling, the state shouldn’t be lenient on cockfighting.
“We have standards,” Christensen said. “We have values, and this goes against all of that.”
After two years of failed previous attempts, the bill passed the full House with a vote of 41-33.
"I guess third time's the charm," Davis said Wednesday before the Senate voted unanimously to concur with House amendments to make the crime a felony on a third offense.
“We wanted to see cockfighting pass as a felony on the first offense, but this is a step in the right direction,” said Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah. “We do not condone this senseless act of animal cruelty and believe it should be treated the same as dogfighting.”
Davis said while the bill isn't what he originally wanted to accomplish, it achieved its end goal.
The bill now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org