In a letter to House Speaker David Gowan on Monday, Governor Ducey announced his first veto. This action was in response to a bill that agriculture lobbyists rushed through the Arizona Legislature last week. Animal-welfare advocates immediately called upon the Governor to veto the bill because it weakens the state's current animal-cruelty laws.
House Bill 2150 would have removed livestock and poultry from Arizona's definition of animals in the criminal code effectively stripping them of any protection from anti-cruelty laws. Further, the bill omitted the crime of "abandonment" and the requirement to provide medical care to farm animals - both of which are crimes under current law. Under HB 2150, a person could have abandoned his horse in the desert and leave it to die without penalty.
HB 2150 would also have forbid any city or county from enacting laws tougher than the watered-down bill. For example, in 1996, the City of Phoenix enacted an ordinance banning home slaughter of livestock following an investigation of people slaughtering goats in apartment complexes. Under HB 2150, local governments would have been powerless to address issues like this.
One bizarre requirement of HB 2150 stated the Department of Agriculture Director had to be notified of any investigation of livestock abuse. A requirement that Republican Senator John Kavanagh, a former cop, found "fishy." "[HB] 2150 requires police officers who are investigating livestock abuse to notify civilians in the Department of Agriculture, thereby compromising ongoing investigations," Kavanagh said. "No other area of law enforcement requires such an outside notification."
Had Ducey not vetoed the bill, it would not have only jeopardized sensitive farm animal investigations conducted by law enforcement, it would have put the fox in charge of the hen house.
"HB 2150 simply creates new problems," Kavanagh said. "That's why law enforcement ... is opposed to this bill." Kavanagh and Democratic Senator Steve Farley, the biggest animal-welfare defenders in the Legislature, both argued against the bill.
HB 2150 would have removed protections that all animals in Arizona have benefited from for decades and would have put the welfare of certain animals at substantial risk -- without any corresponding benefit or legitimate justification.
Senator Farley stated that he couldn't understand why the agricultural industry would even want such a bill.
"If the public sees the agricultural committee trying to get themselves out of animal-cruelty statutes, they're going to ask themselves, 'What are they hiding?'" Farley said. "Most farmers, most agricultural people, treat their animals well; and if that is the case, which I believe it is, why would you need to exempt yourself from animal-cruelty statutes?"
The Yavapai Humane Society shares many lawmakers concern that animal welfare groups were not invited to be involved in the crafting of the bill nor were they even allowed to participate in any stakeholder meetings.
In his letter announcing his veto, Governor Ducey explained, "we all agree animal cruelty in inexcusable and absolutely will not be tolerated in the state of Arizona. No animal should be the victim of abuse. Moreover, perpetrators must be held to account and properly penalized to the fullest extent of the law."
"We must ensure that all animal are protected, and [be] mindful that increasing protections for one class of animals does not inadvertently undercut protections of another"; - which is just what HB 2150 would have done.
Cruelty is cruelty - and HB 2150 would have robbed farm animals of any protection under the law. We can do better for both the animals and the people of Arizona. I applaud Governor Ducey's veto.
Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 928-445-2666, ext. 101.