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Tulsa World

Cockfighting ban to face new challenge

This time it will be in the state Legislature instead of the courts.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma's new law prohibiting cockfighting already is under attack in the courts and now will face a legislative challenge next year.

Lawsuits have been filed in 13 eastern and southern Oklahoma counties in an attempt to overturn the anti-cockfighting law, and Attorney General Drew Edmondson hopes to consolidate them into a single case.

Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, an outspoken foe of the cockfighting ban, said on Thursday he will introduce legislation to make cockfighting legal in counties that voted against State Question 687 -- the proposal to outlaw the blood sport.

The state question was approved in only 20 of the state's 77 counties. SQ 687 was adopted by a vote of 565,967 to 441,220. Most of the margin came in Tulsa County, 123,293 to 46,995, and Oklahoma County, 122,276 to 59,900.

Eight of the other counties that approved the cockfighting proposal were in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City met ropolitan areas. Most rural counties voted against the ban.

In addition to making cockfighting legal in counties where the state question failed, Shurden said his legislation will propose a county option system, giving other counties the right to legalize the sport.

"Even though State Question 687 passed, 57 counties voted against the ban," Shurden said. "My bill would keep cockfighting legal in those counties."

He said voters in the other counties can decide if they want to legalize the sport or allow the prohibition to continue.

Shurden said his bill also will contain language to change the law from a felony to a misdemeanor. Those who violate the existing law may receive up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

Maximum penalties for a misdemeanor normally are no more than a year in the county jail and $1,000 fine.

Shurden said his bill also would remove all penalties for related activities, such as raising gamecocks.

"I am strongly opposed to making it illegal for law-abiding citizens to raise poultry or livestock," he said. "These animal activist groups have no right to come here and keep people from making a living.

"Next thing they'll want to do is ban calf roping at rodeos," he said.

Shurden added that there are "serious questions" about why the state question ever made it to the ballot, pointing out the Oklahoma Supreme Court had to overrule one of its own referees who had found the initiative petition didn't have enough valid signatures.

The veteran lawmaker pointed out the cockfighting prohibition is statutory, not constitutional, allowing the Legislature to change it without another vote of the people.

Shurden's announcement brought an immediate reaction from Janet Halliburton, the attorney for the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting.

"County option of a criminal statute creates an enforcement nightmare," she said.

"The people of Oklahoma have spoken loud and clear," Halliburton said. "Oklahoma historically doesn't go for county option."

Coalition spokeswoman Cynthia Armstrong called his proposal "a step toward anarchy."

She said everyone knew prior to the election that a statewide ban was the issue and called Shurden's proposal "lunacy."

Under his theory, she said laws passed by the Legislature should apply only in the districts of lawmakers who voted for them and not in those whose representatives voted against them.

Shurden has become the legislative champion of game fowl breeders.

Voters rejected a proposal by Shurden at the Nov. 5 general election that would have required twice as many signatures for any initiative petition involving animals.

Those supporting the ban on cockfighting believed it originally was intended to block that effort.

Shurden will introduce his bill prior to the next Legislature, which convenes Feb. 3.