Subcommittee Votes To Make Cockfighting A Felony - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Subcommittee Votes To Make Cockfighting A Felony

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Leighann McCollum, state director of the Humane Society of the United States Leighann McCollum, state director of the Humane Society of the United States
Thomas Farrow, FBI agent Thomas Farrow, FBI agent
State Rep. Eddie BAss, D-Prospect State Rep. Eddie BAss, D-Prospect
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A House subcommittee approved a bill to make cockfighting a felony in Tennessee.

In Tennessee, fighting with bulls, bears or dogs is a class E felony, but the penalty for cockfighting is a Class A misdemeanor, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

"These animals are bred to fight," said Leighann McCollum, HSUS state director. "They are bred for aggression."

Presently, 34 states and the District of Columbia have made cockfighting a felony, according to the HSUS Web site.

Some Tennessee lawmakers want to do the same when it comes to possessing and training chickens to fight.

Among the people to testify Wednesday before legislators was an FBI agent who worked on a high-profile cockfighting case in East Tennessee.

To him, cockfighting equals big crime. Farrow played a role in dismantling the Del Rio cockfighting pit in Cocke County. More than 100 people were arrested a few years when the more than 60-year-old operation ended.

"We took on a very large corruption case. And that's all cockfighting is - organized gambling," he said. "It's a money-making proposition. Del Reo paid $10,000-$40,000."

He said many animals "end up with grievous wounds in the ring."

Some state lawmakers are fighting to change that. They believe cockfighting is far from a cottage industry but an underground big business that attracts a lot of crime.

"There's a huge element of gambling, prostitution, drugs, weapons," Farrow said.

A few lawmakers wondered if making the penalties stricter was necessary.

 "But you know, when we pass this it will be more serious to fight a chicken, than to assault a police officer. Anybody realize that?" said state Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, a former sheriff.

"I have contacted all my sheriffs and I don't know of a problem in East Tennessee of chicken fighting," said state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who also has law enforcement experience.

Despite the opposition, the bill passed through that committee. Another committee will consider will debate about the bill next week.

Lawmakers have been trying to pass a cockfighting bill for 10 years, but this is the closest it has reached on the House or Senate floor for a final vote.

If the bill passes, cockfighting spectators would also be penalized. They could face up to 11 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

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