BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho senator is walking a tightrope on poultry-related legislation.
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, has secured the Humane Society of the United States' support for his bill to make cockfighting a felony but its ire on another measure he hopes will help thwart the animal-rights group's efforts to outlaw cramped cages for chickens.
The Senate voted 34-1 Monday on his bill to make running a cockfighting operation punishable by up to five years in prison and $50,000 in fines. It would also boost fines for misdemeanor animal cruelty and torture to up to a year in jail and $9,000 in fines.
Minutes later, senators voted 24-11 for Corder's plan to establish a Department of Agriculture-run livestock care standards board. The board's 10 members, pulled from industry, universities and state government, would evaluate livestock and poultry practices, recommend best-management practices for the "well being of production animals," and "protect Idaho farms and families."
The Humane Society helped draft the cockfighting and animal cruelty bill but opposes the livestock board, which Corder describes as a pre-emptive strike against radical animal-rights activists who will descend on Idaho with emotional camera footage meant to turn people against large-scale chicken farms.
"We'll see Idaho agriculture on the television at six o'clock," Corder said. "It's a lot more comfortable if we have this in place than six months from now when we have ten million chickens and HSUS (the Humane Society) on television."
And chickens are coming, Corder told other senators: Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Line North America has already opened a new facility in Burley, in southern Idaho, that hatches million of hens to be shipped elsewhere. And in January, commissioners there approved zoning changes to allow a broiler chicken plant to house up to 4 million birds.
Both of Corder's measures now go to the House.
Idaho lawmakers made dogfighting a felony in 2008, but the state remains one of 11 where the cockfighting is still a misdemeanor. Cockfighting rings have been discovered here, including in a 2008 raid on a Wendell dairy where authorities seized 20 fighting cocks.
Lisa Kauffman, the Idaho director for the Humane Society, said such rings are more common than most people think and may be used by traffickers to launder drug money.
"It's a pretty barbaric and inhumane," Kauffman said. "I'm glad to see they've closed the loophole in Idaho."
Still, she's concerned the livestock board will be dominated by industry to protect profits, not animals. Its members would include appointees of the Idaho Dairymen's Association, the Idaho Cattle Association, an animal shelter and Idaho Kennel Club — but nobody from a national animal-welfare group like her own.
"A livestock board is basically the fox watching the hen house," Kauffman said. "The bottom line is, the hens are the ones that are suffering."
The board would be similar to a farm industry-backed panel approved by Ohio voters last year after animal-welfare measures passed in California, Florida and Arizona.
Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he was initially skeptical but finally decided his state needs a board, too, to shield its own agriculture economy from meddling.
"We need to give them some options to protect themselves," Hammond said.
In Senate debate, objections came from both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, called it one board too many.
"I have counted the size of government in the state of Idaho, and it's too big," Pearce said. "For that reason, I'll be voting no."
Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour, who represents Boise's North End neighborhood, was concerned its composition was lopsided in favor of meat-eaters.
"Given I represent a district with far more vegetarians than chickens ... my constituents would surely be concerned about the makeup of the board," she said.