MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Legislature will take another stab in the upcoming session at cockfighting, a heated issue that has lured crowds to the Statehouse during past sessions.
A bill will be introduced in the session that begins Feb. 7 to increase the penalty for cockfighting from a $50 fine to a $6,000 fine and as much as a year behind bars.
The bill is being pushed by the Humane Society of the U.S., which is also trying to slow down an advocacy group that is fighting the legislation. The Humane Society has asked the Alabama attorney general's office to investigate why the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association is listed with the state as a nonprofit organization. The Humane Society of the U.S. is a national animal welfare and protection organization that is not related to local humane society shelters.
Mindy Gilbert, state director for Humane Society of the U.S., said the Gamefowl Breeders Association can't be nonprofit when it promotes an illegal activity.
Former state Rep. Ken Guin, a Carbon Hill attorney, has been hired to represent the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association during the session. Guin said the organization will fight the bill. He said the Gamefowl Breeders are a legitimate non-profit organization that raises the birds, mostly to be shipped out of state and often out of the country. He said many of the birds are raised to show in events similar to dog shows.
Guin said the Gamefowl Breeders will oppose the bill in the upcoming session. He said breeding the bids is a big industry in the state.
"This is a huge industry with a tremendous economic impact in Alabama," Guin said.
He said the birds are raised in more humane conditions than most poultry and are shipped in individual cages.
The bill will be sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Barton of Mobile in the House and by Republican Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster in the Senate.
Ward said one of the reasons why new legislation is needed is that other states have adopted stiffer penalties for cockfighting.
"So many states are clamping down on this so they are coming to Alabama to do it," Ward said.
Ward said in addition to the cruelty to animals issue, there is concern about the large amounts of money that are bet on cockfighting and the concern that the birds could spread diseases.
Gilbert said it's not uncommon for one of the birds involved in a cockfight to die in the ring. She said often sharp objects are attached to their talons before the fights.
"Young children have been found at these sites, handling the birds. Children have been found actively gambling," Gilbert said.
She said the fights are sometimes staged in arenas with scoreboards and a public address system.