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Friday, March 15, 2013

Progress for Animals Throughout the States

Yesterday was a remarkable day in state legislatures across the country, with a number of key animal protection bills moving forward through critical stages of the legislative process.

In New Jersey, the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved A. 3250, sponsored by Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, D-Camden, to phase out the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in gestation crates. These metal cages confine sows during their entire pregnancies, and are so restrictive they cannot even turn around or stretch their limbs for months on end. Companion legislation, S. 1921 by Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, has already passed the Senate, and if it’s enacted into law, New Jersey will become the tenth state to end gestation crate confinement.

Gestation crateTwin sisters and high school students Abigail and Elizabeth Fournier testified at the committee hearing in favor of the bill, telling lawmakers, “There are clear psychological and physical effects for pigs in these gestation creates. Studies prove that pigs that are kept in gestation crates suffer from a decrease in muscle weight, bone density, and bone strength. These pigs will also engage in an activity called ‘bar-biting’ which are repeated mouthing movements on the metal bars of the crates. There are much better alternatives than keeping pigs in gestation crates. One option is group housing, which allows pigs to be social and move freely.”
 
The Assembly Judiciary Committee in the Garden State also approved A. 2379, sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, to allow the prosecution of dogfighting leaders under the racketeering law. The bill aims to give law enforcement additional tools needed to crack down on the kingpins who force dogs to fight to a violent and bloody death for entertainment and gambling.

In Colorado, the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee passed H.B. 1231, sponsored by Representative Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, by a vote of 6 to 5. The legislation would phase out the routine tail docking of dairy cows—the painful practice of cutting off the cow’s tail, often without anesthesia. Cows need their tails to protect themselves from flies, and cutting them off serves no scientific purpose or health benefit. Tail docking is opposed by the National Milk Producers Federation and the American Veterinary Medical Association, and has been banned in California, Ohio, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

In Minnesota, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved S.F. 666, sponsored by Senator Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, to place a five-year moratorium on wolf hunting. After a packed hearing with an overflow crowd of supporters and opponents of wolf hunting making their case to lawmakers, the panel passed the moratorium bill by a vote of 7 to 6. When wolves were stripped of their federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, Minnesota wildlife managers hostile to wolves hastily moved to allow trophy hunting and trapping of the rare creatures, resulting in the killing of 413 wolves during the state’s first season. A moratorium would give the wolf population a reprieve and prevent the state from resuming the very practices that drove the species to the brink of extinction in the first place.

There were some setbacks, as well: In Utah, the House of Representatives rejected S.B. 52 to increase the penalties for illegal cockfighting in the state. Utah is one of only ten states without felony-level penalties for cockfighting, making it a magnet for criminal animal fighters along with gambling and other associated crimes. Although the bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, passed the Senate by a vote of 19 to 9, it failed in the House by a vote of 28 to 39. We will be working with our partners at the Humane Society of Utah and other groups to get this important policy done in the future, and make sure animal fighters are punished with more than a slap on the wrist.

A number of new bills were introduced in the states this week, including efforts in Nevada, Texas, and West Virginia to crack down on the private ownership of dangerous wild animals such as big cats and primates. After two pet chimpanzees escaped in Las Vegas last year, one of whom was killed by police, there is increased momentum in the remaining states that have no restrictions on keeping dangerous wildlife as pets. In Texas, more than 100 advocates rallied at the state capitol—led by “Friday Night Lights” star Kyle Chandler and his 11-year-old daughter, Sawyer—urging passage of a bill to ban the trade in shark fin products and help protect shark populations from dramatic declines and brutal killing for shark fin soup.

So far in 2013, two measures have been enacted—an Arkansas animal care appropriation and a Kentucky resolution recognizing Spay Day—and another 19 have passed one or both chambers in their state legislatures. Please contact your state lawmakers and urge them to pass animal protection bills, and we will keep you posted on progress throughout the year.

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