A bill that would make it harder to document and report abuse to livestock passed an Arizona House committee yesterday and is headed for a vote of the full State House of Representatives where it faces an uncertain fate. The proposed law, House Bill 2587, makes a distinction between general animal cruelty and cruelty to livestock, and it no longer recognizes livestock cruelty as a felony.
The legislation was drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects large corporations with state legislators and then assists those corporations in getting their agendas transformed into legislation.
The bill is being supported by the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation.
The bill, if it became law, it would remove the power to investigate cruelty to livestock from local law enforcement and turn it over to the Arizona Department of Agriculture - an entity with funding issues and limited investigative abilities. It would also prohibit local communities from passing more restrictive legislation than the state law.
The law would require persons having any proof of livestock cruelty (such as photos or videos) to turn those over to the Arizona Department of Agriculture within five days or face penalties. That would stymie attempts of whistle-blowers or outside parties to conduct protracted investigations of suspected abuse. Several states have these "quick reporting" laws, including Missouri which demands that evidence be surrendered within twenty-four hours. Opponents of the measure argue that it makes it impossible to document "persistent" animal maltreatment or conduct more substantive investigations.
Kansas, North Dakota, and Montana have laws on their books that prohibit individuals from taking photographs or videos of agricultural operations without permission. Similar proposals have been introduced in other states and are commonly referred to as "ag-gag" bills.
Those opposing this proposed legislation say that it's primary purpose is to stop undercover video investigations that in the past have been used to show animal cruelty in large factory-farming operations. They also argue that these types of provisions place the criminal onus on those trying to document the abuse rather than on the abusers themselves.
The Arizona Humane Society is opposed to this legislation for obvious reasons. They released the following statement regarding the bill:
"It is designed to make Arizona a safe haven for massive, industrial, and internationally owned corporate livestock factories that may destroy our long, rich tradition of responsible and sustainable farming."In addition to the Humane Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County have stepped forward in support of the humane treatment of animals. Arpaio is understandably miffed at the threat of losing any investigative powers - and has even created a special unit within his department to investigate animal abuse.
It's gearing up to be a good fight. ALEC may find that it's hard to push around dumb animals if Sheriff Joe is sitting astride the bell cow!
(Note: Being in agreement with Joe Arpaio on anything is a sure sign that I've been in Arizona too damned long!)