Hoping that the third time is the charm, Sen. Gene Davis (D-Salt Lake City) is sponsoring SB 134, a bill that would make cockfighting a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense and third degree felony on subsequent violations.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill 3-1, reports the Deseret News. It now moves to the Senate floor.
However, Sen. Davis is still skeptical that the bill will pass through Congress. He reminded reporters that this is the third year he’s introduced similar measures. In the past, such legislation has passed the Senate only to fail in the House.
Under current Utah law people who attend a cockfighting event can already be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, and Sen. Davis is hoping to bring the remainder of Utah’s cockfighting laws in line with the rest of the states.
SB 134 excludes breeders of game fowl. “These are beautiful game birds that can be raised, but they can’t be sold for fighting or used in an actual cockfight,” Davis said.
Humane Society of Utah Executive Director Gene Baierschmidt made an impassioned plea for passing the bill, stating:
“With Utah now being the only state west of the Mississippi River where cockfighting is not a felony, this could have a real negative impact on tourism. Surely the majority of Utahans do not want Utah to be known as the place to come if you want to participate in this blood sport which only leads to needless animal suffering.
“Cockfighting also brings with it a host of social ills such as drug trafficking, violent crime, gambling and prostitution,” he added.
Gilbert Ramirez, president of the Utah Game Breeders Association, opposed the increased penalties for cockfighting, even though he said the birds he breeds do not participate in any type of fighting.
Sundays Hunt, Director of the Humane Society of the United States, who testified in support of the bill, told the Standard-Examiner that the underground cockfighting industry targets states with the weakest laws to host their illicit games.
Utah residents can play an important part in making this the year that Utah stops this brutal blood sport by contacting their legislators directly and urging prompt passage of SB 134.
“It’s important for Utah to send the message that we do not allow cockfighting in the state,” Sen. Davis said, adding that SB 134 will bring Utah on par with the rest of the western states, leaving only two states in the country -- Alabama and Mississippi -- that don’t have felony status for cockfighting.