In 2002, Oklahomans successfully fought long and hard to ban cockfighting from our state. This year, Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, has filed a bill to severely weaken our voter-approved cockfighting ban. He seeks to reduce the punishment for cockfighters from felony level to misdemeanor level. In addition, he wants to remove language from the existing law that would redefine the crime to only include birds that are fitted with artificial spurs, knives or gaffs and remove ‘training fights’ from the definition altogether. His proposed legislation reduces the fines to $500 for the first offense, $1000 for the second and $2000 for the third and subsequent convictions with no limit or additional penalty for continuing to commit this crime. He would like to remove any jail time whatsoever under these laws.
These proposed amendments would greatly weaken the ability of law enforcement agencies to enforce our cockfighting law and would remove any deterrent effect. Repeated misdemeanor penalties would just be a cost of doing business for these criminals. Law enforcement authorities have widely acknowledged that cockfighting is often associated with other criminal activities including illegal gambling and narcotics. Cockfighters breed birds for aggression, pump them full of stimulants and strap razor-sharp knives to their legs. They are then placed in a pit to hack each other to death for the amusement of those watching.
Rep. Humphrey is the chair of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections committee where he presented this bill, with passing votes on Feb. 10. He is now trying to get the bill heard on the House floor. In the committee meeting, Rep. Humphrey stated that his motivation for presenting this bill was to reduce criminal penalties since the state reduced criminal penalties for certain drug and property-related crimes. Incidentally, Humphrey also introduced new legislation to forever guarantee the right to use bullhooks on elephants. He was successful and that bill was passed through the committee on Feb. 8.
Republicans, democrats and independents all agree that animals should not be abused or mistreated. Our legislators should not be reducing penalties for a crimes simply because another law reduced penalties for a different type of crime. We have worked very hard to pass and maintain our current animal cruelty laws and Oklahomans should demand that legislators leave the law as originally passed.
Danielle Weaver, J.D.