ATLANTA - Georgia senators on Thursday expanded the scope of legislation targeting organized dogfighting rings to include cockfighting.
The Senate passed the Animal Fighting Act 52-4 after voting 32-12 to amend the bill by removing an exclusion for "fish or fowl.''
The measure now goes to the House.
As adopted by the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee last week, the bill was aimed primarily at dogfighting. It would make it a felony to own or train dogs to fight, advertise or stage fights or place bets on the results of dogfights.
Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, the bill's sponsor, said the extent of organized dogfighting in Georgia came to his attention in a graphic way when a 3-year-old boy in his district was attacked by a pit bull that had been trained to fight.
"This young boy has had to go through eight surgeries to his face,'' Rogers said.
Rogers described several raids of dog-fighting rings that have occurred in recent years, including a raid in Newton County two years ago.
Both dogfighting and cockfighting already are illegal in Georgia. But Rogers said the law has been so difficult to prosecute that authorities virtually have to catch a fight in progress to make arrests.
"There's only one person in jail today in Georgia for a dogfighting crime,'' he said.
The bill also increases penalties for violators, who would face fines of $5,000 and up to five years in prison.
Rogers said he promised a lobbyist to keep cockfighting out of the bill. He said he was worried that applying the legislation's stricter provisions to cockfighting would stir up enough opposition to threaten its chances for passage.
But other senators weren't bound to that pledge. On a show of hands - unusual in the Senate when there is significant division on a proposed amendment - lawmakers took out the exclusion for fish or fowl.
"I don't know about fighting fish,'' said Sen. Steen Miles, D-Decatur, the amendment's sponsor, to chuckles from her colleagues.
"But (cockfighting) is just wrong, pure and simple. ... This is not something we should be known for.''
Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland, one of the four senators who voted against the bill, said he was worried its language could be interpreted to apply to dogs trained for hunting.
But Rogers said hunting is clearly excluded from the measure and cited a letter from an administrator with the state Department of Natural Resources saying the agency is satisfied that hunting dogs would not be affected.