A controversial bill on animal cruelty sponsored by a Rim Country lawmaker eked through the House last week.
Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) removed the most controversial elements from HB 2587 before it passed on a 33-24 vote. The bill must now pass the Senate and avoid a governor’s veto.
Barton dropped a requirement that anyone with evidence of cruelty report it within five days, which animal rights groups said was designed to prevent people from accumulating evidence of cruelty in slaughterhouses and farms.
She also eliminated a provision that made only the state Department of Agriculture responsible for investigating cruelty in commercial operations. Law enforcement officials including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio objected to that provision, which would make it harder for local law enforcement to investigate allegations of cruelty.
Despite the changes in the bill it had requested, the Humane Society pulled out of negotiations and reiterated its objection to the bill, which would establish different rules for domestic pets and animals in commercial operations.
Arizona Humane Society President Steven Hansen in a letter wrote, “We cannot accept a mediocre win for Arizona’s cats and dogs at the expense of Arizona’s horses and cows. We cannot in good conscience ask our supporters
to help us save the lives of thousands of homeless pets each year while knowingly putting the lives of thousands of other animals at risk. Abuse is abuse. And we cannot be ‘neutral’ on lesser penalties for any abuse.”
Barton said that even though she had agreed to all the changes the Humane Society requested in return for taking a “neutral” position, the group walked out of the talks at the last minute.
Much of the initial opposition from animal rights group focused on the requirement that anyone who has evidence of animal abuse must turn it over within five days — or perhaps be guilty of a crime themselves.
Livestock groups nationwide have pushed for such provisions after people working undercover in dairy farms and slaughterhouses released secretly recorded videos of brutal treatment of the animals. They said the provision would effectively prevent such undercover operations in Arizona.
Barton said she sponsored the bill to both protect ranchers and other commercial operations from burdensome regulations more suited to domestic pets and to prevent animal cruelty overall. The bill adds animal hoarding to the list of animal abuses, as when someone keeps hundreds of cats in unsanitary conditions.
The bill had the strong backing of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, which said commercial operations couldn’t go by the same rules as pet owners, given the number of animals and economic constraints involved.
The bill made a first-time animal cruelty offense a misdemeanor, which some lawmakers said was too lenient.
The amendments also didn’t win over Arpaio, although they considerably softened his opposition. He praised the provisions that allowed local law enforcement to continue to investigate cruelty cases.