Cockfighting bill blocked by NRA objections

House leaders pulled a popular bill that seeks to curb animal fights after the National Rifle Association (NRA) objected to how the bill was brought to the floor.

The bill, which has 303 cosponsors, would make it a felony to knowingly sponsor or exhibit animals for the purpose of a fight if the animals were transported across state lines. Doing so is currently against the law, but it is only a misdemeanor violation. Under the bill, violators would face fines or up to three years in prison.

One target for bill sponsors was the practice of cockfighting, which is banned in 49 states, with Louisiana the holdout.
The Judiciary Committee passed the bill. The Agriculture Committee, which shared jurisdiction, discharged the measure,
which left it free to go to the House floor for a vote.

Because of the bill’s support, leaders put it on the suspension calendar, which is generally reserved for non-controversial measures.

Members of the Agriculture Committee, however, apparently went to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to express jurisdictional concerns after the NRA raised objections.

NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said the lack of review in the Agriculture Committee was “unorthodox” and could set a “dangerous precedent” relating to each committee’s jurisdiction. He said the group has not opposed the substance of the bill.
The bill includes language that references the purchase, sale, transport and delivery of animals for the purpose of staging animal fights. But the bill would amend Title 18 of the U.S. code, the section that establishes what is a crime and the process for penalizing lawbreakers.

The NRA argued, however, that provisions of the bill should amend Title 7 of the U.S. code, which covers the handling of livestock and other agriculture issues.

Title 18 does include a section that prohibits hunting or fishing in wildlife refuges and using motor vehicles or aircraft to hunt wild horses, as well as other crimes relating to the treatment of animals.

Michael Markarian, an executive vice president for the Humane Society of the United States and a chief supporter of the bill, said he believes the NRA “just wants to get in the way of an animal welfare bill.”

Markarian said that the NRA, upset at the success the Humane Society has had at the state level — including the adoption in Michigan of a law that bans dove-hunting — was now “looking for payback.”

Despite the last-minute controversy, both sides said the measure would likely be back on the floor soon — either today or next week.