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Wednesday, March 5, 2003

House Takes on Cockfighting

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Cockfighting would be banned in New Mexico one of the last states allowing it under a bill moving through the House.
    Members of the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, on a 7-1 vote, approved the measure (HB 559) to amend the state's criminal code and prohibit the bloody sport.
    Rep. Ron Godbey, R-Cedar Crest, said New Mexico needs to join the rest of the nation. Louisiana is the only other state that allows cockfighting.
    "Unfortunately we are on the bottom end of too many lists, and this happens to be one of them," he said.
    Cockfighting already is banned in 13 of 33 New Mexico counties, Godbey said, as well as in 28 cities.
    The committee took action on the bill after about two hours of debate in the House chambers.
    Opponents of the ban said the legislation is an attack on longstanding Hispanic and rural traditions.
    "I don't know that there would have been an event that as a Spanish family would have kept us more as a unit," said Daniel Sena, a dentist. He said he grew up watching cockfights.
    Other opponents, from around the state, said the sport attracts families and puts money in the state's economy.
    Supporters of banning the sport said cockfighting amounts to nothing more than animal cruelty. One lamented that the debate has become so divisive.
    "It's animals that unite us," said Kate Rindy, who works at the Animal Humane Society in Santa Fe. "The reality is, cockfighting is brutal, and it's a tragic statement that these animals are coming between us."
    Others who spoke for the measure included a veterinarian, a martial arts expert and a representative of the New Mexico District Attorneys Association.
    Only Rep. Richard D. Vigil, D-Ribera, voted against the ban in the committee vote. He said his vote was to protect the sport's cultural aspect.
    "I have to stand up for my culture and my people," he said.
    The House Agriculture and Water Resources and the Judiciary committees are expected to take up the measure next.
    But, should those committees approve, the bill could have a bleak future in the Senate. Members of the Senate Conservation Committee last month tabled a Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales.
    Gov. Bill Richardson isn't taking a position on the bill, spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.