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Cockfighting should be treated as crime it is

Staff Report • Dec 13, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Persistent might be the best word to describe state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. Year after year, Lundberg has sponsored bills to stiffen penalties for cockfighting, ban all open containers of alcohol in moving vehicles and allow wine to be sold in Tennessee grocery stores. And year after year, Lundberg has seen those measures stall in committee.

Undaunted, he is expected to again champion these bills when the state General Assembly returns to work next month. Lundberg already is receiving a lot of attention for his wine in grocery stores bill. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said recently he believes the legislation has an excellent chance for passage this year.

Likewise, advocates for toughening Tennessee’s laws against drunken driving say this also might be the year that Lundberg’s “pass the bottle” bill finally makes it to the floor of the state House of Representatives. Although no driver may drink alcohol or possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle in Tennessee, passengers are allowed under state law to consume booze in that very same vehicle. This loophole allows a driver to simply pass the bottle to a passenger if he or she is stopped by a law enforcement officer.

Legislation to close that loophole has been bottled up in a subcommittee in recent years. The leading argument against the bill is that it would infringe on the rights of University of Tennessee fans who wish to enjoy a cocktail (while being driven by a sober friend) to a football game in Knoxville.

Of all of Lundberg’s Quixotic legislative endeavors, however, it may be his bill to make cockfighting a felony that will have the most difficult route to passage this year. Despite a number of cockfighting arrests in Tennessee in recent years, the state has the weakest cockfighting laws in the nation.

Efforts to stiffen those penalties have stalled annually in a subcommittee of the state House Agriculture Committee. Remarkably, legislators have declined to get tough on cockfighting even after hearing testimony from federal agents who say Tennessee is part of the infamous “Cockfighting Corridor,” where criminals who engage in this blood sport flock to ply their despicable trade.

There’s an obvious link between cockfighting and interstate gambling. And if that is not enough illegal activity to justify the attention of state lawmakers, how about drug trafficking and contraband? Both animal welfare groups and law enforcement officials say there is a direct link between cockfighting and trafficking in meth and crack cocaine.

As we’ve said in this space many times before, cockfighting is not a harmless diversion. It’s a barbaric crime that deserves more than a slap on the wrist. Hopefully, this is the year Tennessee lawmakers do the right thing.

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