A bill intended to strengthen Mississippi dogfighting laws might make them even more lax

NATCHEZ — A bill to strengthen dogfighting laws in Mississippi may now have the opposite effect after state representatives amended the legislation.

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, said he felt the amendments to HB2934, which he authored, would actually weaken Mississippi’s current dogfighting law.

Dearing has advocated strongly for raising penalties for dogfighting in the 2018 legislative session, but the bill he proposed has seen several major amendments.

Current Mississippi dogfighting law allows a felony charge with up to three years’ imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine on first offense.

Dearing’s original bill would increase the penalties to one year’s imprisonment and $1,000 for each dog found on the suspected fighter’s property, with a maximum of 25 years in prison.

The amendments passed in the House of Representatives change the law to a misdemeanor offense on first and second conviction with a maximum fine of $1,000 and no more than six months in prison.

Upon third conviction in the amendment, the dogfighter would be charged with a felony and fined less than $5,000. The prison sentence for third conviction would be no more than two years, which is less than first-conviction imprisonment in current state law.
The dogfighting bill had already sustained one weakening amendment. Before passing the Senate agricultural committee in a 12-1 vote, senators tacked on an amendment that capped the maximum fine to $10,000 and the maximum imprisonment to 10 years.

After passing the full Senate in a 46-6 vote, the bill headed to the House of Representatives.

House Judiciary B Committee, chaired by Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, passed the amendment further weakening Dearing’s bill.

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, is a member of Judiciary Committee B.

“There were still many questions from committee,” Mims said. “To keep the bill alive, this amendment was made.”

Mims said despite having questions, the committee still wanted to pass the legislation to the House floor before deadline, which was Tuesday.

In order to keep some room for conversation and possible changes to the bill, the committee added a reverse repealer into the amendment.

A bill will not go into effect until a reverse repealer is lifted, as the caveat means a law will expire on June 30, the day prior to the day when all new legislation would have taken effect.

A reverse repealer must be lifted in conference, meaning the legislation could again change before being passed or heading toward the governor’s desk.

“I’m praying that the reverse repealer will let us fix this,” Dearing said. “This is just a step backward.”

Mims said the repealer ensures that further conversation will be made concerning the bill, but allows the bill to remain alive for this session.

“We’re still early in making sure that the legislation is a deterrent for dogfighters,” Mims said. “We have to think about the political dynamics that we have. What is the best way we can have good legislation that will also pass?”

Sen. Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg, however, said he believes the amendment is not good legislation.

“I don’t like that at all,” Hudson said. “Our laws are already lower than the surrounding states. I’m very disappointed.”

The purpose of strengthening the dogfighting legislation, Dearing said, was to “send a signal” to would-be dogfighters.

A signal may still be sent, but Dearing said he fears the message may have changed.

Originally published by The Natchez Democrat. Featured photo by Nicole Hester. 

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