HOUSE passes bill to protect cockfights

Friday, May 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A proposed constitutional amendment to make it tougher to outlaw cockfighting was approved in the Oklahoma House on Thursday after impassioned debate over the state's heritage and image.

Veteran Rep. Frank Davis, R-Guthrie, urged his colleagues to defeat the proposal, saying cockfighting is a barbaric practice left over from the 19th Century.

Davis noted Oklahoma was one of only three states where cockfighting is legal and said retaining it would make the state a laughingstock around the nation.

``They already think of us as rednecks. Let's don't give them a reason to believe that this is true. Let's not pass this.''

But House members voted 64-33 in favor of the bill, which would require circulators of an initiative petition on cockfighting or other animal-related issues to secure valid signatures of 15 percent of the last general election vote. The standard is now 8 percent.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is now considering a challenge to an anti-cockfighting petition circulated a year ago. A court referee's report said 43,000 signatures on the petition were invalid, leaving it far short of the number required to force a statewide vote.

Louisiana and New Mexico are the only two other states where cockfighting is legal.

In Thursday's debate, supporters said protection of cockfighting is not the main reason for the bill.

Rep. Bob Plunk, D-Ada, author, said he feared that animal rights activists in the future could infringe on the rights of hunters, fishermen and target rodeos and other sports and entertainment activities that involve animals.

He and others said the state's vital livestock industry could fall prey to animal rights ``extremists.''

The bottom line, said Rep. M.C. Leist, D-Morris, is that animal rights supporters will have to meet a strong constitutional test ``if they are going to try to destroy any part of our heritage.''

He said the threat is real to hunters, pointing to California and other states that have restricted the use of traps and hounds by hunters.

Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. He said the Senate will easily pass the plan and send it to a vote of the people.

Shurden said protection for cockfighting is a side issue.

Davis said the real reason was to continue untaxed and unregulated gambling on cockfights.

``Rodeo people are not afraid of a few nuts interfering with the sport of rodeoing,'' Davis said.

``No sane person, I believe, would take any pleasure out of strapping razor sharp knives on dumb animals and setting them in a dirty pit to fight each other to the death, until one has caused the other to bleed to death,'' said Davis, a former judge.

``It is done today by people who do so to gamble big time on which animals will kill each other.''

He said gamblers meet in a clandestine fashion ``under cover of darkness in faraway places where the law enforcement officers are not present.

``There are children present. Children involved in the gambling. Children who may have raised these animals as pets and now see them being put in this pit to see them fight to their death, and then perhaps holding them in their arms afterwards as they bleed to death.''