PHOENIX — A bill championed by livestock producers but derided by
animal-rights activists as an “ag gag” bill because it aims to reign in their
undercover activities won approval from an Arizona Senate panel Wednesday.
The Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee approved the proposal
billed as a crackdown on animal cruelty on a 7-2 vote. The bill sponsored by
Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, toughens animal-cruelty penalties and adds
provisions cracking down on hoarding. But it lowers those penalties from a
felony to a misdemeanor for owners of livestock facilities.
The Arizona Cattlemen’s Association argues the lower penalty is justified
because their members can also lose their licenses.
“There is no break,” said Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the
cattlemen’s group. “We are held to a different standard under government. So
not only will you be charged with animal cruelty, but you most likely lose the
license to operate.”
Bray also defended the provisions in Senate Bill 1267 that require undercover
investigators from animal-rights groups to turn them over to law enforcement
within five days, saying the industry wants to stop violations quickly.
“The problem with what we see around the country with those things happening
is they choose to videotape it for the course of months,” Bray said. “Then
they hold the videotape and release it on a slow news day.”
Karen Michael, a member of the Animal Defense League of Arizona who has done
undercover investigations of slaughterhouses, said the livestock industry is not
revealing its real motives for backing the bill.
“These ag-gag bills were made to punish those who exposed cruelty,” Michael
The industry proposed legislation in 15 states last year, none of which passed,
to make it illegal to go onto livestock facilities to covertly film, she said.
Utah passed a law in 2012 criminalizing the activity.
The industry has now moved on to a tactic of pushing “quick-reporting” rules,
“What that does is it prevents those that expose cruelty from developing a
pattern,” she said. “What’s disingenuous about that is that it is being done
under the pretense of animal protections.”
Pierce, who is also a rancher, sharply questioned opponents of the
quick-reporting requirement. He said if their real goal was to prevent suffering
they would want it stopped immediately.
The House adopted a similar bill, HB2587, last week.
A Pima County prosecutor and a Scottsdale police officer testified that putting
the authority for all livestock investigations in the hands of the understaffed
agriculture department was a major problem. They noted that with less than a
dozen officers statewide, the department can’t respond to calls.
Outside the livestock provisions, which also shifts enforcement of livestock
violations to the state Agriculture Department, the Senate bill adds hoarding
provisions for household pets and allows a judge to require a psychological
assessment. A person convicted more than once of animal cruelty can also be
barred from owning animals.