Now that Congress considers cockfighting a federal offense, an Eastern Panhandle lawmaker is renewing his effort to change West Virginia law so that putting roosters into battle is more serious than a misdemeanor.

West Virginia is among 13 states where cockfighting remains a minor crime, punishable by a fine of $100 to $1,000, or a one-year jail term, or both.

“That is excellent news,” Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, said Tuesday of the Federal Farm Bill that elevates cockfighting to a felony crime.

Overington plans to revive an earlier bill to assign felony status to cockfighting, which he describes as “brutal” and “barbaric,” one that persists in the 21st century to the detriment of West Virginia’s image.

“It is a very brutal sport and it teaches people the wrong type of message, especially if you have young people that are watching and they’re egging on the brutality of one rooster killing another rooster with razors attached to their feet,” the delegate said.

Overington realizes he’s in for a hard battle, recalling the difficulty he encountered in making dog fighting a felony offense.

“It was an uphill battle getting the dogfighting part a felony,” he said.

“Folks in southern West Virginia, Wayne County and other places were adamantly opposed to it. They didn’t support making it a felony.”

Overington figures the celebrated case of former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and his subsequent prison term for dog fighting likely influenced the West Virginia Legislature into changing its statute.

State lawmakers are being urged by the Humane Society of the United States to rewrite the cockfighting statute so that it is a felony crime to participate in the practice.

“Americans have no tolerance for the criminals who engage in animal fighting for the sake of gambling or feeding their sick sense of entertainment,” said John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues for the Human Society.

Birds are bred for combat, given drugs to make them more aggressive, and sent into rings with razor-sharp knives or gaffs that resemble ice picks on their legs, Goodwin said.

Goodwin said law enforcement authorities in conducting raids at cockfights have found a strong link to the illegal drug industry.

“It sends a bad message about our state and about our image as well have having an adverse effect on how we deal with violence in a way we’re encouraging a form of violence and brutality,” Overington said.

“It shows a barbarity. It just conveys an image about West Virginia and it’s not the type of image we want.”

Overington acknowledged that his proposal is apt to attract some strong opposition, “but I think I will pursue it.”

“We don’t want the barbarity of that type of sport,” he added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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