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Senators' votes lay an egg

By PAUL ENGLISH World Capitol Bureau

Both sides fail to gather enough support to amend the state's new law on cockfighting.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two cockfighting proposals were a lose-lose proposition in the Senate on Wednesday as neither side mustered enough votes to have its way.

Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, fell just short of the 25 votes needed to pass House Bill 1784, which he sponsored in the Senate. The vote was 23-24.

He kept the bill alive by serving notice that he would ask for reconsideration next week.

Shurden argued that violators of the state's new cockfighting law should never have to go to prison for a "chicken crime."

Opponents said passage of Shurden's bill would be "a slap in the face of the people" who voted in November to ban cockfighting and made any violation a felony.

Shurden's bill proposes to put to a vote of the people a reduction of the penalty to a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of one year in the county jail and a fine of $500, regardless of the number of offenses.

Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, lost a vote on his proposed amendment to HB 1784 that would have set the penalty for a first-time misdemeanor offense at $2,000, with subsequent violations being felonies with a penalty of one to 10 years in prison and a penalty of $2,000 to $25,000.

"I wouldn't have brought any bill if I thought anybody ought to spend one day in the state penitentiary for a chicken crime," Shurden said.

No matter how many times a person violates the cockfighting law, he said, that person should never go to prison "unless they're stealing chickens."

Sen. James Williamson, R-Tulsa, said, "Senator Shurden doesn't want to stop this activity. If you want to vote for this bill and keep it going in Oklahoma, alive and well, that's fine, but don't pretend like you're doing anything but doing that by ignoring the compromise amendment."

Williamson referred to the Shurden plan as "cockfighting by the wink."

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Oklahoma City, said that to vote on changing the law so soon after voters approved it would "make a farce out of this and it would be a grave error and a slap in the face of the people of the state of Oklahoma."

Fair said people would be mad if the Legislature messed with the state's initiative petition process, used to get the cockfighting ban on the ballot.

"The campaign that's going to be waged on this is not chicken fighting this time," Fair said. "It's going to be overturning the will of the people and the initiative petition process."

Shurden said opponents were afraid to let the people "have another shot at this. That's all we're doing. We're not overturning the vote of the people."

Shurden cited a Tulsa World poll in which 57 percent of the people surveyed said they would vote to have the penalty reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

"We're not trying to destroy the initiative petition process. We're going to let them vote again," he said.

Sen. Mark Snyder, R-Edmond, said many people think cockfighting is "really a crime because it hinges on animal cruelty."

Snyder said a first-offense misdemeanor would mean "you need to get out of this business" and that a felony offense would mean "you pay the price for being in this business."