Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio threw his support today behind opponents of two bills moving through the Legislature that would, among other things, hand investigative powers to the Arizona Department of Agriculture in livestock abuse cases.
During a press briefing organized by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, at the historic Arizona Capitol building, Arpaio said that he would never seek prior approval for an animal abuse investigation, as HB2587 would dictate.
“The elected sheriff has to call some bureaucratic state agency before I can investigate in this county? It’s never going to happen,” he said. Arpaio, who has long been a crusader against animal abuse, formed a six-person unit more than a decade ago to investigate those crimes.
In addition to HB2587, representatives of PETA were there to challenge SB1267, which would require any video or photographic evidence of abuse to be turned over to the Agriculture Department within five business days of the evidence being captured. Opponents refer to the measures as “ag-gag” bills, because they believe the proposals would have a silencing effect on potential whistleblowers.
Dan Mathews, PETA senior vice president, said the organization has used hidden cameras on multiple occasions to uncover ongoing livestock abuse at farms across the United States. He said investigators cannot show examples of continued livestock abuse in order to build a case with the bill’s required five-day reporting period.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, a supporter of HB2587, said the bill is not yet finished and the authors are working on fixing the language to address some of the concerns. Brophy McGee believes the bill would be more successful if agriculture animals were separated from domestic animals, which account for the majority of animal abuse complaints.
“I completely understand the lack of confidence in the bill as written, but it is not finished,” she said.
PETA presented a video testimonial at the press briefing of Republican strategist Mary Matalin arguing against the bills. Matalin said the best way to end livestock abuse is for investigators to obtain evidence. She mentioned that similar “ag-gag” bills have failed in 11 other states.
“Factory farms are not fixing the problem and instead are trying to blame the messenger,” she said.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who opposes HB2587, said the bill started out with good intent, but the agriculture industry “hijacked a good animal cruelty bill.”
“This takes away the enforcement mechanism that then endangers our public health,” he said.
Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, the primary sponsor of HB2587, did not return phone calls for comment.