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Monday, March 17, 2003

House Vote Bans Cockfights

By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE The House, after contentious debate Sunday, approved a proposal to end cockfighting in New Mexico.
    The measure passed 45-21 and went to the Senate, where it could run into trouble. A Senate committee last month shelved a similar proposal to ban cockfighting.
    The Legislature adjourns Saturday, but the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Godbey, R-Cedar Crest, said there's ample time to push the bill through and get it to the governor before adjournment.
    New Mexico and Louisiana are the only states where cockfighting is legal.
    Animal rights activists and others contend that cockfighting is inhumane and qualifies as animal cruelty.
    "You've all heard me say this before," Godbey told his colleagues. "To characterize this activity as a sport is a misstatement. It's a knife fight between two chickens."
    Cockfighting supporters contend that the practice is part of the state's agricultural community and potentially brings millions of dollars to New Mexico's economy each year.
    Rep. James Taylor, D-Albuquerque, defended cockfighting as part of the state's Hispanic culture. He pointed to a territorial flag that represented the New Mexico region more than 150 years ago.
    "We're talking about New Mexico heritage and New Mexico history," Taylor said. "Back in 1846, the crest of this territory was the insignia of the fighting cock. The time has changed, but the tradition and the heritage should never change."
    Rep. Daniel Foley, R-Roswell, said cockfighting is apparently a big activity in southeastern New Mexico, but he has never seen a fighting rooster or people gathering for a cockfight. He said people have a choice of whether to attend a cockfight.
    "I don't understand why we're going to come up here and make this a big issue," he said. "If someone says it's their culture, we need to stop being the moral police."
    Rep. Nick Tinnin, R-Farmington, said some traditions including cockfighting should change.
    "There's been a lot of talk about how cockfighting has been culturally accepted activity," he said. "Was slavery a culturally accepted activity? Has slavery been outlawed?"
    Rep. Earlene Roberts, R-Lovington, said lawmakers were wasting their time debating a measure that has previously failed in the Legislature.
    "We're talking about an animal, a chicken, a poultry," she said. "We have bigger issues, bigger issues that are killing our children. Why don't we focus on the real priorities in the state of New Mexico?"
    Gov. Bill Richardson, at a news conference on Sunday, declined to comment on the bill to ban cockfighting. He said the issue was "below my radar."