The Idaho Senate approved additions to the state animal cruelty laws Monday that would outlaw cockfighting and define and penalize the torture and neglect of animals.
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said he's spent more than a year working on the changes, because past attempts to alter laws dealing with animal abuse received opposition from agricultural groups or animal welfare organizations. The current legal changes avoided those obstacles and has broad support, according to Corder. "No one is opposed to the changes that we're talking about," Corder said.
Cockfighting or any other kind of animal fighting would become felonies in Idaho. The current law only criminalizes dog fighting. The legislation would also impose stiff misdemeanors on torturing or abandoning animals. "We've elevated the abandonment conviction and the torture conviction to the higher level of prosecution." Offenders could face a year in jail and a fine of $800-$9,000. Corder said he avoided making torture a felony because there isn't any concrete evidence that doing so would reduce the number of people harming animals.
The Senate vote was 34-1. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, opposed the plan because he said it could create incentives for local officials to increase the number of animal cruelty prosecutions.
The Senate also approved a plan to create an advisory board to track livestock animals' care and treatment. The 13-member board would be led by the director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Corder said the livestock board would stand between the media and Idaho farms and farm families. "We've seen pictures of just about everything," he said. "The dangerous part is that it's represented to be Idaho and to be animal agriculture." He said the group would define animal care, and protect animals and farmers. "When the extreme activist come against the state of Idaho - when, not if - we will be prepared for them ... We're using the right measurements to come up with standards. This board will use science and not emotions or television."
"This is put out there to be a preemptive strike," said Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, a rancher.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, asked Corder why current state agricultural leaders, including the agriculture department, state universities, and agricultural extensions couldn't handle the new board's functions. "We don't have anything else that does this, to stand to represent all the industries," Corder responded.
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, opposed the plan "I feel that it's unnecessary," she said. "This is authority that already exists in the state department of agriculture." Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise also opposed the plan because of the board's make up, which includes more agricultural representatives than animal welfare representatives. She added that her district in Boise contains more vegetarians than chickens.
"If we don't think this is the time, wait six months until there's 10 million chickens in Idaho," Corder said. He was referring to a large new poultry plant coming to Burley. The final vote on the livestock board was 24-11.
Both proposals now head to the Idaho House. Read IdahoReporter.com's story on the animal cruelty laws here. The text of the animal cruelty legislation is available here and livestock board legislation is available here.