Animal rights groups took aim this week at a bill sponsored by Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) that exempts ranchers and livestock operations from provisions of the existing animal cruelty laws.
The law would also require anyone with evidence of animal cruelty to turn over the evidence to authorities within five days, which animal rights groups protested would make it far more difficult to conduct the kinds of photographic, undercover investigations that have revealed acts of animal cruelty in commercial operations in the past.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Arizona Police Association both initially opposed the bill on the grounds it would make it harder to investigate animal cruelty.
The bill passed out of the Committee on Agriculture and Water Tuesday on a 6-2 vote.
Law enforcement officials testified at the committee hearing that the law, as then written, would prevent them from enforcing animal cruelty laws.
Rep. Barton subsequently met with law enforcement officials to address their concerns and to encourage cooperation between the police and the state Department of Agriculture, which would investigate cruelty allegations in commercial operations.
“Sheriff Arpaio wants this bill to work, he is looking forward to a stakeholder’s meeting to work on the details of the proposed amendment,” Rep. Barton wrote in an e-mail to the Roundup on Thursday.
She also amended the bill to draw a distinction between horses working livestock on ranches and horses kept as “pleasure riding horses or for commercial work.”
She said she introduced the bill to bolster rules protecting animals, not to water them down or to exempt commercial operations.
However, Animal Legal Defense Fund Director of Legal Affairs Chris Green told the Associated Press that it seemed “very clear” the bill would reduce undercover investigations — both by police and by animal rights groups. “They want to keep investigators off their farms,” said Green.
A series of undercover investigations by animal rights activists has resulted in sometimes gruesome pictures and videos posted on the Web, often by members of the group who got jobs in farms and slaughterhouses to expose alleged abuses. For instance, Mercy for Animals posted videos shot in a Wisconsin dairy farm in December that showed workers shocking and beating cows with open wounds in filthy conditions.
In another recent case, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado cited three members of the group Compassion Over Killing who filmed alleged animal cruelty during two months they worked undercover at a slaughterhouse. They ultimately released video showing slaughterhouse workers kicking, throwing and otherwise mistreating newborn calves.
The sheriff’s office cited the people who photographed the alleged cruelty for the delay in releasing the video. They now face up to 18 months in jail, according to an article about the case posted on the Web site of Salon.
The complaints about the bill on Tuesday at one point reduced co-sponsor Rep. Kate Brophy McGee to tears, according to the Associated Press report.
Rep. Barton defended the bill. In an open letter to Arizona residents, she wrote, “I am quite alarmed over animal abuse and to this end HB2587 seeks to protect agricultural livestock from extended neglect and abuse.”
She said the bill includes increased penalties for repeat offenders, exemptions and new acts that constitute animal cruelty — like not reporting cases quickly.
The bill adds hoarding animals to the definition of cruelty. The bill also excludes from the section of the law in question “activities involving the possession, training, transport, exhibition, or use of the animal in the otherwise lawful pursuits of hunting, ranching, farming, rodeos, shows, fairs, auctions and security services.”
Animal rights groups testified that the bill would threaten those attempting to document animal cruelty with prosecution if they didn’t turn over any evidence within five days, which would make it far more difficult to gather evidence.
However, Barton said that provision was intended to protect the animals.
“Just as with crimes involving children, the evidence of criminal abuse or neglect must be reported as quickly as possible!” she wrote.