Mar 10, 2014 8:27 PM
PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona House of Representatives bill that had angered both animal-rights activists and law enforcement has been gutted of its most controversial provisions and approved. But some think it still goes too far.
House Bill 2587, sponsored by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, aims to separate livestock animals from domestic ones. The bill would reduce first-offense felony charges to a misdemeanor for farmers and others accused of abusing livestock. The bill was championed by livestock producers but criticized by animal-rights activists and law enforcement agencies for provisions that they said would hamper investigations of abuse.
The bill originally would have forced anyone to notify law enforcement of animal cruelty within five days of obtaining evidence. Animal-rights activists say that was a veiled attempt to eliminate undercover investigations at animal processing plants and farms.
Another original provision would have given the state Department of Agriculture full authority to investigate animal-abuse claims on farms and other livestock operations, negating the power of police to investigate such crimes. Representatives from the Arizona Police Association and the Maricopa County Sheriff County's Office, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a mission out of tackling animal abuse, said they opposed that provision because it would bar them from enforcing the law.
Those provisions were removed by an amendment offered by Barton. But one lawmaker still opposed changing felony offenses to misdemeanors.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that would put animal cruelty on the same level as entering a public park with a glass bottle. He said the bill goes too far in protecting livestock owners, who say they are at risk of losing their operations if convicted of an animal abuse felony.
"This is too much for me and too much for my constituents," he said.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said the changes now satisfy all critics and proponents.
"I think there is a lot of passion, a lot of emotion involved in animal cruelty. But at the end of the day, members, if you want to make things better for animals - domestic and commercial - in this state, this is the law that we need to enact," she said.
The House approved the amended bill with a 33-24 vote on Monday. It will now go to the Senate, which is considering an identical bill that has also been amended.
"Politics is give and take and we're giving and taking," said Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, who sponsored the identical bill in the Senate and negotiated on the amendments.
Pierce said the Humane Society of the United States pushed for the changes in what they called an "ag-gag" bill. The Humane Society tracked 15 bills last year in 11 states that sought to criminalize whistleblowers who did undercover operations on factory farms. None passed.
The Arizona proposal has been dubbed "ag-gag light" because it required undercover operatives to turn over their recordings quickly, rather than criminalize their activities.
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