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In Louisiana, you don't want to see laws or cockfights made

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In Louisiana, you don't want to see laws--or cockfights--made

It's as predictable and pernicious as hurricane season--Louisiana's yearly consideration of a cockfighting ban. Louisiana and New Mexico are the only states that still permit cockfighting. Missouri, Arizona and Oklahoma, the last holdout states, have banned the bloodsport in the last few years.

This year cockfighting opponents got farther than expected.

While a House bill to criminalize cockfighting was killed--again!--in April by consigning it to the House Agriculture Committee which is chaired by an ardent cockfighting supporter, the Senate bill escaped a similar fate--at first.

Sen. Art Lentini's (R-Metairie) bill--which makes a first offense of hosting or participating in a cockfight punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months imprisonment--went to the Senate Committee on Judiciary C where, in a rewritten form, it was passed unanimously and went to the full Senate for debate.

The issue didn't belong in the Agriculture Committee anyway says the Lafayette Daily Advertiser,1 which points out that, "In the past, anti-cruelty legislation--including measures related to dog fighting and hog-dog fighting--has been assigned to the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice."

But instead of voting on the merits of the bill, the Louisiana Senate capitulated to a parliamentary maneuver by Sen. Nick Gautreaux (D-Abbeville) to divert the measure to--you guessed it--the Senate Agriculture Committee, which is chaired by the pro-cockfighting Sen. Mike Smith (D-Winnfield). (Photos show a portly, mustachioed Smith laughing derisively.)

"Let's not cop out" by sending the bill to a committee to kill it, said Sen. Tom Schedler (R-Mandeville) as he watched the bill evaporate. "We know what the outcome will be. What is the fear of taking this vote?" 2

"I am tired of the fact and saddened by the fact there is so much gambling money in this sport," seconded Sen. Joel Chaisson II (D-Destrehan). "The public perception is that we will protect it. This continues to allow Louisiana to be held in disrepute."

But pro-cockfighting Senators from south Louisiana prevailed.

"It's a $2 million industry. I'm not going to stand here and turn my back on the people who sent me here" said Sen. Don Cravins (D-Opelousas) who has several co*k pits in his district and held a political fundraiser at one of them. "I hope you kill this bill."3

"It's a way of life in our area," proclaimed Sen. Gautreaux who says that cockfighting is big business in his area and his grandfather raised fighting roosters. "It's not just a tradition; it's a right."3

Cockfighting involves attaching three inch blades to the legs of roosters and tossing them into a ring to fight so fans can bet on which will die first. If birds live but lose their eyes, "blinker derbies" are sometimes held between blind birds. Often the birds are drugged to keep them fighting to the death. The sport has been condemned by everyone from the Times Picayune, Baton Rouge Advocate, Shreveport Times and Lafayette Daily Advertiser to Jay Leno and agriculture secretary Mike Johanns.

"The pitiful roosters, who had lived their entire lives tethered, never knowing the freedom of flight, were tossed into a pit and goaded into fighting until one bled to death," wrote one reader to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. "Those who call this entertainment must be degenerates." 4

"It is barbaric," state police Lt. Rhett Trahan told the Senate Judiciary C Committee, testifying that he witnessed one fight where "more than $1 million changed hands" and a boy about 8 years old was betting and yelling during the fight "kill him, kill him, kill him!" 5

Like slavery, cockfighting is defended as tradition, natural and "good for" the animals and a right which if lost would lead to other intrusive legislation.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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