WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives passed legislation Monday to clamp down on animal fighting, under tougher penalties that would make it a felony to transport animals across state lines for fighting.
The bill passed 368 to 39 after floor debate in which no member spoke against it. That was a sharp contrast to a contentious Judiciary Committee meeting last month, in which some anti-abortion lawmakers argued that the legislation elevated the lives of chickens over unborn babies.
"We've been trying to federally criminalize this brutal, inhumane practice of animal fighting for the past several Congresses," said the bill's Republican sponsor, Rep. Elton Gallegly.
He said the current misdemeanor penalty for transporting animals across state lines for fighting is too weak.
"Misdemeanor penalties simply don't provide a meaningful deterrent," Gallegly said. "Animal fighters consider misdemeanor penalties as a slap on the wrist, or merely the cost of doing business."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the chief Democratic sponsor, said, "This is something that has been an area frankly where Congress has shamefully been complicit."
A Senate version, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, could come up for a vote as early as this week.
Dogfighting is banned in every state, and New Mexico recently became the 49th state to ban cockfighting, making Louisiana the only state where it remains legal. Critics call cockfights inhumane, because the contest features two roosters fitted with blades or gaffs on their legs fighting until one is dead or too wounded to fight.
In the last congressional session, Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, refused to bring a similar bill up for a vote in the Judiciary Committee, which he chaired at the time. When Democrats took over the House, the new chairman, Democrat John Conyers, quickly brought up the legislation for a committee vote, but not before Sensenbrenner tried unsuccessfully to attach an anti-abortion amendment to it.