NASHVILLE - A new legislative strategy in the eight-year fight to get tough on cock fighting in Tennessee is ruffling feathers.
A bill focusing squarely on spectators rather than the fighting itself took wing and flew through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday despite the opposition of two Southeast Tennessee lawmakers.
And it did the same in the House Civil Justice Committee.
The measure raises penalties for attending a cockfighting event from a minimum of $50 to $500.
Senate Judiciary Committee members approved it on a 7-2 vote with only Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, voting against it.
Bell criticized the bill, noting it is pushed by the Humane Society of the United States. He attacked the national group, among other things saying it has pushed to eliminate the use of dogs to hunt bears in some states and suggesting it would push that in Tennessee eventually.
The bill's sponsor, Senate Republican Caucus Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro said cockfighting attracts drugs and other types of crime. Current penalties are meaningless, he said.
Ketron said it raises attending a cock fighting event from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor with current fines going from $50-$500 to $500-$2,500. That's intended to cut the financial motivation of promoters, he said.
"They're not going to fight 'em because they want everyone to bet," Ketron later said.
Ketron has passed versions of the bill in the past only to see them fail in the House Agriculture Committee. This year, the proposal was inserted into another bill that came before the Civil Justice Committee.
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