Dogfighting bill nearing final passage

ATLANTA - After three years of debate, the House and Senate finally appear to be near an agreement on legislation cracking down on dogfighting in Georgia.

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a House bill making it a felony to own, sell, train or transport dogs for purposes of fighting, or to sponsor, advertise or host a dogfighting event.

Under the legislation, introduced by Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, adults attending dogfights would be charged with a misdemeanor on the first offense. But spectators would face felony charges on subsequent offenses.

Tougher penalties against dogfighting failed in the General Assembly during the last two years amid opposition from hunters worried that some of the provisions could affect their activities.

But the effort gained momentum when former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick went to federal prison after pleading guilty to helping operate a dogfighting ring on property he owned in Virginia.

"You have made a loud and bold statement that dogfighting should be eliminated in Georgia," Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, who has spearheaded the effort in the Senate, told his colleagues Wednesday.

The Senate amended the bill on the floor to require the neutering or spaying of dogs confiscated from dogfighting rings and to make it effective immediately upon the governor's signature.

Because of those changes, it now goes back to the House.