WASHINGTON - Watch a cockfight, go to jail.
A provision of a Senate-approved farm bill would impose a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine for attending a cockfight or dogfight and a maximum of three years in jail and a $250,000 fine for bringing along a child.
Proponents of the measure say it will help authorities crack down on illegal animal fights by targeting what Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, called "the entire cast of characters that sustain dogfighting and cockfighting."
A similar measure - the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act - is pending in the House, where it is backed by nearly 200 lawmakers from both parties.
The legislation would help ensure that animal-fight organizers "cannot escape justice by disappearing into the crowd attending the event," the bill's chief sponsors, Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, said in a letter to colleagues.
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In Los Angeles County, sheriff's deputies breaking up a backyard cockfight last year found spectators as young as 13 and 14 along with about 45 live fighting birds and 11 dead ones.
Every state except Montana imposes penalties for attending animal fights. The California Senate recently approved a bill that would increase the maximum fine for spectators at animal fights from $1,000 to $5,000.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who sponsored the amendment to the farm bill, said it would help federal authorities work with local officials in sting operations.
"When animal fighting involves players from a number of different states, local law enforcement simply lacks the power to deal with it and to root out the entire operation," added Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a leader in the effort to enact the legislation.
The measure, approved by the Senate 88-11, makes it a federal crime to "knowingly" attend an animal fight or "knowingly cause" someone under age 18 to attend.
Spectators don't just "accidentally" happen upon an animal fight, the Humane Society said in a statement.
"They seek out the criminal activity at secret locations, often need passwords to enter, and pay admission fees for the opportunity to watch and gamble on the gruesome show - facts that a prosecutor might use as evidence to prove that a defendant knowingly attended."
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