By Jasmine Aguilera
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - A provision in the farm bill passed by the Senate last month would make it a federal crime to attend animal-fighting exhibitions.
Spectators would face additional charges if they brought a minor to witness the fight.
The provision is similar to the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act that was introduced during the previous Congress but stalled in the House.
The difference is in language, but the Senate farm bill provision retains the goals included in the act, according to Andrew Binovi, federal legislative manager of government relations at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The provision was introduced by Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Maria Cantwell of Washington, along with Republican Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and David Vitter of Louisiana.
Federal penalties already exist for people who organize animal fights, but none exist for spectators.
"Spectators are not there accidentally," Binovi said. "They're there to take part, to gamble and place wages. They create the market for animal fighting."
Binovi said organizers often sneak into a crowd of spectators during a raid and avoid facing charges.
The animal-fighting provision also was part of the House farm bill, which was defeated last month. House lawmakers will make a new attempt to pass a farm bill when they return from recess next week.
Under the provision, attending an animal fight would be punishable by up to one year in prison and fines. Forcing a minor to attend could result in three years in prison and fines.
During the 112th Congress, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act was co-sponsored by 147 lawmakers in the House and Senate, including Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
A similar law New York passed in 2011 made attending an animal fight punishable by up to three months in prison and a $500 fine. A second offense is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York signed a measure in 2012 making it a misdemeanor to sell or distribute animal-fighting paraphernalia.
"We are definitely encouraged by their efforts," Binovi said. "We thank all of our leaders for their effort to combat this."
Two Rockland County, N.Y. men pleaded guilty last month to animal-fighting charges after a drug investigation uncovered a dog-fighting operation in their home.
Ralph Cadet, 42, and Tyrell Francis, 29, face up to a year in prison when they are sentenced Sept. 17. Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe could not be reached for comment.