Arizona has a pretty abysmal track record when it comes to its treatment of humans, having created, over the past few years, what some have called a "climate of intimidation" for undocumented immigrants in the state. Now, some Arizona lawmakers are trying to push a bill that would make the Grand Canyon State a pretty uncomfortable place for livestock, too.
Last Monday, Arizona's Senate advanced a bill, authored by Republican Brenda Barton of Payson, that proposes treating livestock differently than from house pets when it comes to animal cruelty. Under the bill, abandonment of animals would be considered abusive if the animal is a cat, dog, or other cuddly pet, but would not be applied to livestock such as cows and chickens. On the other hand, the bill would mandate increased protections for pets, such as harsher penalties for those found guilty of pet-hoarding.
Barton has defended the bill by saying that pets are most often the victims of cruelty towards animals, and that by separating livestock out from that category, Arizona pets will more easily receive the full protection of the law.
"Eighty-two percent of animal cruelty involves cats and dogs," Barton said during a committee hearing earlier in the month. House Bill 2150 "allows livestock to move out of the way so that law enforcement and appropriate agencies can deal with the animal abuse," she said.
But animal rights groups in the state beg to differ with Barton, arguing that exempting farm animals from the anti-cruelty code places them in separate, weaker statute, and claiming that the bill is a giveaway to the state's agribusiness giants, who don't want to be slowed down by—or have to pay for—the illnesses or injuries that livestock might suffer as a result of being raised and slaughtered within the factory farming system. Organizations such as the regional branch of the Humane Society of the United States are urging Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who will review the measure after it returns to the House for final approval, to veto it.
"While factory farms may not think of chickens, pigs, and horses as animals, it's clear that Arizonans, including our governor, do," the Humane Society's Arizona director, Kari Nienstedt, told MUNCHIES in a statement sent via email. "During his campaign, Governor Ducey pledged that he opposed removing categories of animals from our state's anti-cruelty code. This bill does exactly that, relegating them to a statute with less protections. It's time for him to keep his pledge by vetoing HB 2150."
According to Chris Green, director of legislative affairs at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Barton has tried to pass such legislation before. He told AZ Central that last year, she introduced a bill that would have reduced charges for farmers convicted of animal cruelty from a felony to a misdemeanor, and allowed the state's Department of Agriculture—which has close ties to big factory farms—to investigate such charges in the place of local law enforcement. While the current bill doesn't include those clauses, Green worries that if passed, it could easily be altered to reflect those changes.
"If you're not going to change anything, then why go through all the trouble to pass the law?" he asked.
The fact that farming groups are supporting HB 2150 lends credence animal rights groups' assertions that the bill has been designed by special interest groups to shield factory farms from accusations of animal abuse. The Arizona Farm Bureau, as well as the state's Cattle Growers' Association, have both come out in support of the bill.
But Senator Steve Farley, a Democrat from Tucson, told the Senate last Monday that the bill is harming the agriculture industry's image, and that creating separate legislation for livestock definitely looks shifty even if the laws are well-intentioned.
"If we make everyone who has animals play by the same rules, then no one's going to be questioning agriculture," he said.