Depending on your wonkishness you might not know AZ HB 2150 or what its proponents wanted to accomplish. The simplest explanation is the bill draws a clear line between Tabby the house cat and a herd of cattle. It suggests there is a difference between the two, especially when it comes to their care and feeding. A group of Arizona's ag associations spent a couple of years crafting a law that recognizes a bull is not a cat and a goat is not a dog. Neither can flock of parakeets be compared to a flock of chickens.
Arizona's legislature looked at HB 2150, concluded that it made a lot of sense, passed it by an overwhelming margin and sent it on to newly elected Republican Governor Doug Ducey for his signature. You might remember him from his stint as CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream chain he co-founded a few years after graduating from Arizona State University.
His action stunned at least five major Arizona farm groups. I suspect they overlooked an important aspect of Ducey's personal life. He's always been deeply involved in Humanitarian causes and has the awards and recognition to prove it. He's a former Regional Board Member for Teach for America, and Advisory Board Member for the Pat Tillman Foundation. Ducey also served as a Board Member for Thunderbird Charities and the Phoenix Zoo. He is a former Scholarship Board Member for the Catholic Community Foundation.
Ducey was presented with AFP Spirit of Philanthropy Award, and was named Father of the Year by the Father's Day Council benefiting the American Diabetes Association. Recently, he was given the Tom and Madena Stewart Lifetime Compassion Award by Make-A-Wish Arizona for creating the World's Largest Ice Cream Social while serving as CEO of Cold Stone Creamery.
With all that very noble community service under his belt, it should not be surprising that he was the only candidate for governor who included an animal welfare plank in his political platform. Appearing to be 'soft' on the subject, even though HB 2150 was carefully crafted not to roll back any existing rules or regs, was just not in his card deck.
Like most everyone with an ag perspective who was watching the bill, I was still surprised. Curious about what the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, one of the major players in crafting the bill, thought about this unexpected turn of events, I contacted Jim Klinker, the Bureau's President. He suggested I talk with Ana Kennedy, their Government Relations Manager and the lead lobbyist on the project.
Q. Ana, let's start by discussing who was behind HB 2150 and who were the principle opponents. Would you give me some background on both?
A. Those supporting this legislation for the past two years include the various organizations representing agriculture and the livestock industry including the Arizona Farm Bureau, Arizona Cattlemen's Association, United Dairymen of Arizona, Arizona Pork Council, and the Arizona Fairs Association. Also supporting the bill were Representatives Brenda Barton, a rural legislator, and Kate Brophy McGee, an urban legislator.
The usual anti-animal agriculture crowd opposed the bill including the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Defense League of Arizona, Humane Voters of Arizona, and the Arizona Humane Society. One particular county prosecutor from southern Arizona, who initially opposed the bill, came around to a neutral position once changes regarding penalties to livestock were made.
Q. What was the intent behind separating household pets from agricultural animals? Some newspapers and organizations went as far as suggesting HB 2150 was an attempt to substantially weaken animal welfare laws.
A. The reason we needed this legislation is the Arizona Legislature and public continue to be concerned about the way individuals care for and treat pets in the state. Past legislation has worked to address animal hoarding, sale of animals and repeat offenders. However these statutory solutions have not succeeded- often because of the unintended consequences they create, primarily those that impact livestock and animal agriculture.
For example addressing the issues of hoarding, as it relates to cats and dogs, may create negative impacts for farms and ranches who raise and care for large numbers of animals. Although some of these efforts are well intended, because of the unintended consequences they create, we - the Arizona Farm Bureau and others - have often opposed these bills. HB 2150 helps resolve that issue.
Q. Republican Senator John Kavanagh and Democratic Senator Steve Farley were especially critical of the bill. Farley said, "If the public sees the agricultural community as trying to get themselves out of animal-cruelty statutes, they're going to ask themselves, 'What are they hiding?' Most farmers, most agricultural people, are treating their animals well. And if that is the case, which I believe it is, why would you need to exempt yourself from animal-cruelty statutes?" His comment is a common refrain among those that are objecting to what has become known as 'ag-gag' laws. How do you respond to those statements?
A. Having grown up on a feedlot I know first-hand the high level of care the animals on our farm receive and there is nothing we are trying to hide. If there was ever an alleged cruelty violation on a farm in Arizona, HB 2150 would have required the Arizona Department of Agriculture be notified and would have allowed the Department to participate in the investigation if necessary.
Those of us who raise livestock for a living believe it is important that those who understand animal husbandry practices have an opportunity to be part of the process in investigating a suspected violation that pertains to the animals. Additionally there were no ‘ag-gag" components included in HB2150, however it did include specific penalties for livestock cruelty.
Q. You mentioned the Department of Agriculture as a participant in any investigation. One of the major objections of opponents of the bill was the requirement that anyone investigating animal abuse on a farm must notify the state Department of Agriculture which could choose to join the investigation. Animal rights and welfare groups say that could lead to a "tip-off" to farmers from a friendly agency, something that has already happened in North Carolina. What was the reasoning behind involving the ag department and do you give any credence to fears about a tip off?
A. The purpose of agency involvement was so that experts in animal husbandry could serve as a resource in any investigation. We recognize that law enforcement has a job to do in investigating a crime. Because many in law enforcement do not have agricultural backgrounds, it is important that those familiar with farm practices be on hand to assist if necessary. Furthermore, in these cases the Department of Agriculture is also using its law enforcement resources, and it is unfair to accuse this enforcement agency of tipping off alleged perpetrators.
Q. Governor Ducey was the only candidate for that office with a specific platform against animal cruelty. He even cited Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a "teammate" of his in cracking down harder on crimes like dogfighting and cockfighting. With that track record, was it reasonable to expect he would look kindly on any bill that could be deemed as weakening animal welfare laws?
A. No one should look kindly on a bill that would weaken animal welfare laws and it is wrong to characterize HB 2150 as doing so. HB 2150 included cruelty language relating to livestock and poultry and the penalties associated with such violations. The bill also recognized the real difference that exists between pets and livestock. Farmers and ranchers invest significant time and resources in caring for their animals. If there were any bad players in our industry, HB 2150 would have ensured those violators were prosecuted for their crimes.
Additionally, HB 2150 would have helped crack down on the serious issue of animal hoarding. It's unfortunate that this was not an area where there was a willingness to crackdown.
Q. Ducey indicated he was willing to work with the proponents of the bill to develop a revision that he could sign. Will you start that process and which of the provisions are you willing to alter as part of a new deal?
A. The proponents of this bill have worked for several years now to craft legislation that addressed the concerns of law enforcement, prosecutors and even animal welfare groups. We are still considering our course of action on this issue moving forward.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.