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July 12, 2012

Animal Fighting Penalties Advance in Congress, and a Dangerous Attempt to Overturn State Animal Welfare Laws

Last night, during consideration of the 2012 farm bill, the House Agriculture Committee approved an amendment that is intended to overturn every voter-approved animal welfare ballot measure relating to agriculture–Prop 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves, and laying hens), Prop 6 in California (forbidding the sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption), Prop 204 in Arizona (banning veal and gestation crates), and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing gestation crates). The amendment, offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, would also nullify six other state bans on gestation crates, horse slaughter bans in a half-dozen other states, and a raft of anti-downer laws and other animal protection laws designed to shield farm animals from abuse and extreme confinement.

Dog rescued from alleged dogfighting ring in North Carolina
Michelle Riley/The HSUS
A dog rescued from a fighting ring.

But while animal welfare laws may be King’s primary intended target, his amendment reaches way beyond that.  It also seeks to nullify every state, county, or local law that creates any standard or condition established relating to an agricultural production activity.  We’d have no state laws for agricultural facilities relating to worker rights, animal welfare, environmental protection, or public health. It’s hard to overstate how sweeping and far-reaching the King amendment is. It’s the biggest attack on states' rights and the 10th Amendment that I’ve ever seen.  It tries to put the federal government in absolute control of all agriculture, and take states and local governments entirely out of the picture in terms of any balance between agriculture and the values we hold dear in society.

It is almost certainly unconstitutional. As the Supreme Court recently made clear in upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Commerce clause allows Congress to regulate commerce; it doesn't give Congress the authority to mandate its creation, nor to require anyone to participate in commerce they find objectionable. It’s shocking that any serious-minded lawmaker would vote in favor of such a radical federal overreach and endorse a race to the bottom of such epic proportions.

The fact is, Rep. King doesn’t want any laws to protect animals, and perhaps not laws to protect the environment, workers, or public safety. His goal when it comes to animals was made plain during debate on a separate amendment–one offered by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to make it a crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight or to bring a child to one of these fights. King, who fought against anti-cruelty laws when he was a state legislator, argued for the defeat of the McGovern amendment, just as he has repeatedly tried to block the enactment of prior upgrades of the federal animal fighting law. In yesterday’s battle, he got an assist from two veteran lawmakers–former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., and the current committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla.

Fortunately, the anti-animal fighting amendment passed the committee by a bipartisan vote of 26 to 19, and is now included in the version of the farm Bill poised for consideration on the House floor. The U.S. Senate previously approved a similar amendment, offered by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., by a vote of 88 to 11.  Most lawmakers know that animal fighting is a scourge, and we need tough laws to crack down on it. A three-year study by the Chicago Police Department found that 70 percent of animal offenders had also been arrested for other felonies, including domestic and aggravated battery, illegal drug trafficking, and sex crimes. That pattern of behavior undoubtedly encouraged the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and nearly 200 law enforcement agencies from across the country to support the current effort in Congress to quash illegal dogfighting and cockfighting.

Pigs in gestation crates at Wyoming Premium Farms
The HSUS
Sows in cramped gestation crates, which have been
banned in nine states
.

Over the past decade, Congress has strengthened the penalties for and closed major loopholes in the federal law addressing dogfighting, cockfighting, and other forms of animal fighting but has left the issue of spectators unaddressed. This legislation will correct this remaining gap in federal law to allow for a more comprehensive crackdown on this barbaric activity.

Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, make the enterprise profitable through admission fees and wagering, and help conceal and protect the handlers and organizers. I hope that federal investigators who raid large-scale animal fighting operations will soon be able to prosecute the entire cast of characters who sustain dogfighting and cockfighting.

But despite the gains on animal fighting, there’s no possible way The HSUS can support the farm bill if the King provision survives. It’s truly that bad, and it sends our nation in the wrong direction.

The following House Agriculture Committee members voted yes on the McGovern amendment: Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., District 1; Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., District 5; Austin Scott, R-Ga., District 8; Martha Roby, R-Ala., District 2; Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., District 2; Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., District 20; Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., District 17;  Collin Peterson, D-Minn., District 7; Tim Holden, D-Pa., , District 17; Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., District 7; Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, District 3; Joe Baca, D-Calif., District 43; Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., District 18; David Scott, D-Ga., District 13; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, District 28; Tim Walz, D-Minn., District 1; Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., District 5; Larry Kissell, D-N.C., District 8; Bill Owens, D-N.Y., District 23; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, District 1; Joe Courtney, D-Conn., District 2; Peter Welch, D-Vt., at large; Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, District 11; Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Marianas; Terri Sewell, D-Ala., District 7; and Jim McGovern, D-Mass, District 3.

The following House Agriculture Committee members voted no on the McGovern amendment: Frank Lucas, R-Okla., District 3; Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., District 6; Steve King, R-Iowa, District 5; Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, District 19; Michael Conaway, R-Texas, District 11; Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, District 2; Tom Rooney, R-Fla., District 16; Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., District 3; Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, District 18; Scott Tipton, R-Colo., District 3; Steve Southerland, R-Fla., District 2; Rick Crawford, R-Ark., District 1; Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., District 1; Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., District 4; Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., District 14; Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., District 4; Reid Ribble, R-Wis., District 8; Kristi Noem, R-S.D., at large; Jim Costa, D-Calif., District 20.

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