Maui News February 12, 2011 – By MELISSA TANJI, Staff Writer

A bill being considered at the state Legislature would make it illegal to be a spectator at cockfights or other animal fights.

While cockfighting is already against the law, usually the only people who get arrested for the crime are the ones who themselves are caught with the birds or with paraphernalia like gaffes, said freshman Maui Rep. George Fontaine. Fontaine, a Republican, introduced the bill that would make it a petty misdemeanor for people who “knowingly attend” or “pay to attend” a fight. He said he hoped the bill would be a deterrent to people who currently attend, support and gamble on animal fighting.

Fontaine, a former Maui police captain, recalled an Oahu incident when police raided an animal fight attended by more than 500 people.

“The whole idea is to kind of create a disincentive to attend these events. That’s why we came up with this. Hopefully, it will help curtail people from attending these things and gambling,” he said.

Under current law, cockfighting is a misdemeanor and carries punishment of up to one year in jail and $2,000 in fines. Fontaine’s proposal would set fines and community service as punishment for attending a fight.

Fontaine said he introduced the measure on behalf of a constituent. The bill has been forwarded to the state House Judiciary Committee. No hearing has been scheduled yet.

While illegal, cockfighting is considered a traditional activity in a number of cultures whose people immigrated to Hawaii.

Animal advocates and the Maui Police Department said they favor the bill.

“Anything we can do to discourage the practice, we are going to support,” said Jocelyn Bouchard, chief executive officer of the Maui Humane Society.

She said she didn’t want anyone to think of cockfighting, dogfighting, or any animal blood sport as entertainment.

Maui Police Chief Gary Yabuta also has expressed support for the proposal, said Lt. Wayne Ibarra, commander of the Community Relations Section.

Fontaine said he wanted to be sensitive to concerns about clogging up the judicial system and proposed making the offense a petty misdemeanor; so cases could be resolved without going to trial. He also acknowledged that arresting spectators at large cockfights could require a significant amount of manpower. He said it would be up to individual police departments on how they would enforce the law, if passed.

Fontaine also introduced on behalf of a constituent a bill prohibiting the human consumption or trafficking of dog, cat or equine animal meat.

Bouchard said the Maui Humane Society doesn’t take a stand on dietary issues but added, “Nobody, none of us (at the humane society) would want to eat dog and cat meat. . . . Obviously we’re offended by that thought.”

The bill also was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. No hearing has been scheduled yet.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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