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After a few feathers were ruffled in debate, the Utah Senate voted Tuesday to make cockfighting a felony despite arguments that it would be too harsh. Utah currently is the only Western state where cockfighting is just a misdemeanor.
Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, sponsor of SB52, said the change is needed to prevent Utah from becoming a magnet for the fights and gambling on them. He displayed on the Senate floor pictures of birds killed in the fights, and held up the razor-sharp spurs they wear.
"Cockfights seek out the states with the weakest penalties," he said. Davis persuaded the Senate to pass the bill 19-9, and sent it to the House.
But others argued the penalty was too severe.
"It's not a beautiful thing to watch animals fight, but should we put a man in prison because he does this?" said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.
A day earlier, Christensen created a stir and extensive press coverage when he questioned if Utah should send someone to prison for allowing roosters to fight while the state allows "people to go ahead and murder their unborn babies."
Christensen unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill Tuesday to keep cockfighting as a Class A misdemeanor, which he said could still allow some prison time, but also allow for confiscation of property used in the fights.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, was among those who opposed that move, saying cockfighting is a "game to force these animals to fight to death as a form of gambling" and worthy of a felony. Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, added, "This is more of a gambling bill than an animal bill."