BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana senator is opposing a bill that would close loopholes in a state cockfighting ban, saying it threatens the legitimate, less bloody sport of "chicken boxing."
The criticism from Republican Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, seemed to confuse senate judiciary committee members and stunned New Orleans Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans who proposed the loophole-closing bill.
Guillory represents an area of rural Louisiana that fought to keep cockfighting legal prior to the ban. He said chicken boxing is a sport that uses some of the paraphernalia involved in cockfighting, but he said the matches aren't fought to the death.
He described chicken boxing as similar to human kickboxing, with chickens kicking at each other while wearing rubber "gloves" that cover the spurs on their legs. The chickens face each other in rounds of 10 minutes each, and Guillory said there's little chance of serious injury with veterinarians on hand to monitor the matches.
"Instead of a blade or exposed spur, they hit each other with these boxing gloves on, which is quite safe," Guillory said after the hearing. "There's no blood."
When the issue was raised in the committee hearing, Morrell didn't know what Guillory was referencing.
"I have no knowledge whatsoever on chicken boxing so I cannot speak to that," Morrell said. "I have never heard of that. It sounds like something to circumvent cockfighting."
Guillory replied, "There is a legitimate sport known as chicken boxing. It has nothing to do with cockfighting, and it is clear that this bill would interfere, would criminalize that legal enterprise."
Morrell said what Guillory described — two chickens fighting each other — already is banned under the 2008 Louisiana law that criminalized cockfighting.
The two men will carry the fight into the full Senate, after the judiciary committee voted 4-2 to advance Morrell's proposal.
John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy for the Humane Society of the United States, said there is no such sport as chicken boxing.
In an email, he said that chicken boxing "is just a creative excuse the cockfighters have come up with to mask their real agenda, which is to maintain the weakest penalties for cockfighting possible."
Cockfighting is a rural tradition in which specially bred roosters, often outfitted with spurs, gaffs or knives, fight to the death while spectators place wagers on the outcome. For years, lawmakers resisted animal rights activists' efforts to outlaw it. They relented in 2007, and the ban took effect a year later, making Louisiana the last state to make the rooster fights illegal.
Morrell said his proposed bill would tighten the state's cockfighting ban, putting it in line with state laws that prohibit dogfighting.
The bill would broaden the definition of "chicken" in the current law to include roosters, game fowl and other birds. It also would criminalize the possession, manufacturing, buying and selling of spurs, gaffs and knives if there is evidence the paraphernalia is being used to fight chickens. The bill also would toughen the penalties for anyone convicted of cockfighting.
"My concern is about the breadth of this bill," Guillory said. "It covers all chickens. I represent a rural area where people raise a lot of chickens, including chickens that are 15th- and 20th-generation fighting birds that are exported legally and legitimately to other nations."
Morrell said it was illegal to raise chickens for fighting.
"These are not fighting chickens," Guillory replied.
Guillory and Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, voted against the bill. Perry said he was concerned about the penalties.
Senate Bill 523 can be found at www.legis.la.gov