By Mannix Porterfield
Animal fighting might be “a way of life” in southern West Virginia, but it is also one that could cost participants dearly if a Senate-passed bill reaches the governor’s desk.
Anyone connected to the blood sport, be it a gambler, handler or promoter, could be locked up as long as a year, or fined from $1,000 to $5,000, or both.
And the misdemeanor offense would apply not only to placing bets, but to anyone who conducts, finances, manages, supervises, directs, leases or owns all or a part of an animal fighting venture, knowing that gambling is associated with it.
Sen. John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell, one of five senators who opposed the bill, said many in his district engage in animal fighting.
“It’s a way of life,” he said after the floor session.
“They entertain themselves by raising fowl and have contests and things of that nature. It’s a God-given right to do whatever they want to, and they do it. And they don’t bother anybody.”
Fanning said he represents them, and that’s why he opposed the measure.
“That’s their wish,” he said.
Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, said he voted against the bill because it would put participants behind bars at a time when jails and prisons are bursting at the seams with overcrowding.
“If you have to be reprimanded, do it without putting such a long prison term,” Helmick said.
“The access to dollars is one thing. If you get into somebody’s pocketbook, you can show a deterrent to that.”
But sending more people to prison is another matter, he said.
“We don’t have room for them now to put them in prison,” Helmick added.
Joining Helmick and Fanning in voting against SB334 were Sens. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo; Clark Barnes, R-Randolph; and Gregory Tucker, D-Nicholas.
The bill had the strong endorsement of the Humane Society of the United States.
Several police raids of cockfighting venues have occurred in recent years in McDowell County.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell; Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio; and acting Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall.
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A second law-and-order bill, SB390, expands to cell phones an existing law that makes it unlawful to access one’s computer to get personal information.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said the intent is to protect one’s privacy from snoopers using Web-enabled mobile devices.
Another measure, SB507, prolongs the life of the Broadband Deployment Council through New Year’s Eve in 2014, explained Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson.
Senators also passed SB253 that alters the potential regulator oversight to holding company systems, including a greater access by the insurance commission to records of affiliates of insurers, said Sen. Joseph Minard, D-Harrison.
SB335, passed likewise without opposition, would let Class I and Class II cities regulate by taxis and taxi stands by ordinance.
Palumbo said the measure restricts the areas to be regulate to primarily the safety of cabs.