SALT LAKE CITY — Staging cockfights and raising birds for what is often described as a blood sport could become a felony in Utah.

"Cockfighting is nothing but people who receive gratification from seeing animals suffer," Utah Humane Society executive director Gene Baierschmidt told lawmakers Wednesday. "Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a family activity. It's a gruesome, bloody sport."

SB12 would make cockfighting a class A misdemeanor on the first offense and a third-degree felony on the second offense.

Several game fowl breeders told the House Judiciary Committee the proposed law is so vague that they could be prosecuted for raising the birds for show.

"You might as well put the cuffs on me," Ed Riddle told the committee, adding that the chickens he raises sometimes get into fights.

Some committee members called the bill a law in search of a problem.

Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said cockfighting is not a widespread problem in Utah.

"We're treating this almost as if it’s a major drug plague in our society," Greene said.

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Bill sponsor Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said Utah is the only Western state where cockfighting isn't a felony. He noted that the Utah Sheriffs' Association supports the bill.

The committee made several changes to the measure to make it more clear that it's not against the law to breed game fowl for show before endorsing it 7-2.

SB112 now moves the House floor. The Senate passed it last month.

— Dennis Romboy