To: Michael Mckell,
Subject: SB112 (UNCLASSIFIED)
Date: Mon Feb 24 15:01:47 MST 2014
I am writing to urge you to reject Senate Bill 112S01 regarding Gamefowl Fighting Amendments sponsored by Senator Gene Davis. Indeed, the testimony given in support of SB 112S01 during the public hearing in the Senate on February 7th was misleading, completely unsubstantiated by documented fact, and non-responsive to well evidenced oppositional testimony. The Utah House rejected this same legislation last year based on. Sound, logical reasoning. I urge you to again make the sensible decision and reject the unnecessary designation of cockfighting as a felony.
Both Senator Davis and the HSU based their assertions that cockfighting is cruel, and driven by the criminal element and gambling stereotype, without offering a single shred of documented evidence. Both of these assertions are false. Sound research and logic were offered that disputed these claims that were based on no evidence and stereotype driven anecdotal stories.
First, the end result of a felony bill negatively impacts gun rights and results in institutional overcrowding. Being labeled a felon bars future legal gun ownership, weakening 2nd Amendment rights in Utah. Also, felons are sent to jail and/or prison and adding non-violent inmates to an already overcrowded system further strains resources and facilities. These arguments were advanced and went completely unanswered by the Humane Society of Utah or Senator Davis. In fact, Senator Madsen confirmed the validity of the overcrowding argument based on conversations he has had with the Department of Corrections. Remember, even a class A misdemeanor strains jail resources.
Second, cockfighting does not represent cruelty to animals. There are many legally protected activities arguably more brutal than cockfighting. Policymakers should be bound by 14th Amendment requirements to provide equal protection under the laws of Utah. Commercial slaughter is far more brutal than cockfighting. Poultry are excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, live considerably shorter lives than gamefowl, and even in the best conditions have horrific qualities of life compared to a highly prized gamefowl. Moreover, the sport of hunting is legally protected in Utah, even though the prey has no choice, and even though they are known to suffer. Many times game are raised in captivity and released exclusively for private hunts. Comparatively, gamefowl live long lives, in relative luxury, before they are harvested through the tradition of cockfighting. Certainly the only differences between these legally protected activities and cockfighting is a matter of taste, which is not a viable policy justifying the hypocritical and unjust application of the law.
Again, these articulate refutations were ignored by the Humane Society of Utah and Senator Davis. No analysis on the concept of equal protection was offered by SB 112S01 supporters. Senator Davis did assert that hunting for trophies and food were examples of harvest, not cruelty. Although I agree with the statement that hunting and slaughter are not cruel, they are equally as brutal. Also, it is completely false that gamecocks are not harvested. Many gamecocks are consumed as food and the feathers are highly prized for fly fishing and decoration. A legal industry would ensure that gamecock harvest is regulated and monitored correctly. Just because some hunters poach does not mean that hunting should be banned. It means it should be regulated. Senator Davis is attempting to legislate based on taste, ignoring the hypocrisy in his own statements. Remember that sport hunting and cockfighting are being targeted as cruel by the same political interest groups.
It is fact that the same forces driving anti-cockfighting nationwide would ultimately like to see an end to all animal use activities, even those currently protected. For example, the President and CEO of the Humane Society, has been quoted as saying; "If we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment, we would." (Associated Press, Dec 30, 1991). "Our goal is to get sport hunting in the same category as cock fighting and dog fighting. Our opponents say hunting is a tradition. We say traditions can change" (Bozeman (MT) Daily Chronicle, October 8, 1991). "We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States ... We will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped....state by state. (Full Cry Magazine, October 1, 1990).
The Director of the Humane Society of Utah attempted to separate the HSU from these statements made by the Humane Society of the United States, saying that they have never opposed hunting and have never advocated hunting restrictions. But they omitted the critical connection between the HSU and HSUS specifically regarding SB112. The HSU released a statement on 1/7/2014 titled "SB 112 GAMEFOWL FIGHTING AMENDMENTS" that prove the HSU and HSUS agendas are the same. The HSU states, "We are not defeated, however, and during the 2014 session of the Utah State legislature we will revisit the Game Fowl Fighting Amendments bill with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to make cockfighting a felony in the state of Utah." The HSU knows they would lose all support if they openly opposed hunting. But they cannot deny they are affiliated and cooperative with the HSUS and it's agenda. The HSU certainly doesn't support pro-hunting legislation. The HSU web page is also littered with links and documents released by the HSUS solidifying the fact that the HSU endorses and pushes the HSUS agenda. And make no mistake, the HSUS does want to eliminate sport hunting in every state, even Utah. This connection between the HSU and HSUS cannot be ignored.
Policymakers should consider the philosophical end-games of advocates when making decisions. I believe that these goals and philosophies are completely inconsistent with the philosophies and policy schematic of this legislature and the people of Utah. Imagine the billions of dollars and impact to the economy if sport hunting were abolished in Utah. Then imagine the additional revenue that could be generated from a legal and regulated cockfighting system in Utah.
Third, the legality of falconry in Utah is an on-point justification for the legalization of cockfighting. As defined by Utah statute,
"Falconry" means, for the purposes of this rule, caring for and training raptors for pursuit of wild game, and hunting wild game with raptors. Falconry includes the taking of raptors from the wild to use in the sport of falconry; and caring for, training, and transporting raptors held for falconry."
The law condones pitting predator birds against prey birds and smaller pest animals as a spectator sport. According to falconry experts, what many don't understand is that the falconer doesn't allow the falcon to to kill the prey, only viciously wound it. The falconer must perform the kill or the conditioned appetite control cycle fails and the falcon would not return. And remember, falconry is protected largely due to its historical and traditional value dating back thousands of years. The tradition of Cockfighting was incontrovertibly engrained in the culture of America and even embraced by the Founding Fathers as a matter of course. (See Oklahoma Historical Society) Cockfighting certainly deserves the same protection as falconry in Utah.
Realize that the animal rights lobby considers Falconry to be cruel and analogous to cockfighting. The Press of Atlantic City reported, ""Since the days of gun-hunting and abundant farming, falconry is now mainly sport. For that reason, some think it should be stopped. Organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, have held rallies and protests against falconry. "These people get off on sending an animal out and watching it kill another animal," said Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist for PETA. "It's kind of sadistic." Animal-rights activists compare falconry to dog fighting and cockfighting, both of which are illegal. They think that confining a wild animal is wrong and that hunting for entertainment is unethical."We consider falconry a blood sport," Boyles said. The differences between these two activities are merely a matter of taste.
Fourth, specious assertions that cockfighting promotes gambling and a criminal element are patently false. The only comprehensive study concerning game-cocking in America proves that "people engaged in this recreational form are basically conservative, highly concerned with health and outdoor life, strongly patriotic and strongly in favor of obeying laws and preservation of public order." (Professor William C. Capel, Clemson University and Professor Clifton Bryant, VA Poly-technical Institute and State University, AMERICAN COCKERS: RESULTS FROM A NATIONAL SURVEY CONDUCTED IN 1974 THROUGH 1991) This evidence was completely ignored by Senator Davis and the HSU instead relying on hyperbole and zero substantiated data.
Also, If there is any legitimacy to the claims of illegal gambling and a criminal element related to cockfighting, then those claims are made worse by driving the activity underground where it remains hidden from public scrutiny and potential regulation. Senator Madsen clearly understood that any criminal element that does exist was created by laws outlawing cockfighting. Senator Madsen questioned the Director of the HSU and confirmed that there is no documentation of a criminal element during an era of legality. Laws against cockfighting become a self-fulfilling prophecy at best. The arbitrary legislative targeting of cockfighting only risks turning ethical US citizens into felons and leaves the sport vulnerable to the criminal element because many law abiding citizens are being driven out of the sport.
Finally, the biggest argument asserted by Senator Davis and the HSU, that Utah will become a magnet for cockfighting from surrounding states, is both false and unsubstantiated. There are zero examples of arrests that would validate what amounts to fear mongering and sensationalism. Also, Senator Davis' claim that Utah is the only misdemeanor state in the west is misleading and not exactly factual.
Senator Davis' amended bill makes the first offense for gamefowl fighting a class A misdemeanor and a 3rd degree felony on second and subsequent offenses. This sentencing structure is nowhere close to either Idaho or California statute.
Cockfighting is a class C misdemeanor on the first offense under Idaho statute. Moreover, nothing in Idaho law "prohibits any customary practice of breeding or rearing game fowl, regardless of the subsequent uses of said game fowl." Senator Davis' Amendment goes much farther than Idaho law. Certainly this sentencing structure is unnecessary for a problem that is law enforcement says is "negligible to nonexistent" in the state of Utah.
California law says, "any person who aids or abets the fighting or worrying of any cock is guilty of a misdemeanor" (CA PENAL § 597b) California law does not even consider a felony conviction for cockfighting until the second conviction, and even then a misdemeanor conviction is always an option. A felony conviction and sentence is not mandatory.
I urge you to look deeper and reject any sentencing structure advancing a nonviolent crime like gamefowl fighting to the status of felony.
Independent of what other laws in surrounding states may be, it is important to ask why other states should dictate Utah policy? Is Utah going to legalize Marijuana like some states in the West have done? Each state is unique and legislates specific to the realities and environment of the people within that state. Utah, and every state, is supposed to be unique.
The freedoms of thousands of individuals rest on this honorable institution's decisions. Certainly as a legislator you should demand that Senator Davis and the HSU provide evidenced claims to their own statements and answers to the far more prepared and articulated opposition. State legislatures nationwide have asserted themselves to define a unique rights base for the citizens of their state. The Utah House of Representatives should assert itself and eliminate the hypocritical and arguably unconstitutional practice of targeting cockfighting.