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California lawmakers pass a wave of new animal protection laws

For much of 2012, issues like taxes and schools dominated the discussion in California's state Capitol. But lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown also spent considerable attention on the animal kingdom.

Animal welfare advocates celebrated one success after another in Sacramento -- the latest example of a continuing trend in which new laws to prohibit certain types of hunting, increase penalties for animal cruelty and boost other animal protections are gaining momentum in California, often with bipartisan support.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill banning the use of dogs in hunting bears and bobcats. The measure, which made California the 15th state to prohibit the practice of chasing bears up trees with packs of hounds, gained widespread attention, following hearings in which hundreds of passionate hunters and supporters of the bill squared off.

But Brown -- who continued to sign and veto hundreds of bills Friday as a Sunday deadline for his actions loomed -- signed roughly a dozen other animal welfare bills this year as well, often with much less fanfare.

"It was a fairly extraordinary year," said Jennifer Fearing, California state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Among the top measures Brown signed:

SB1145, by state Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Riverside, which doubled the fine for anyone convicted of cockfighting from a maximum of $5,000 to $10,000. The bill also increased fines for dogfighting Advertisement and other types of animal fighting and increased punishments for spectators who are arrested at animal fights to $5,000 and as much as six months in jail.

A bill to prohibit landlords from requiring that tenants declaw their cats and other pets. The measure, SB1229, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, addressed a practice that animal welfare groups say is painful and leaves cats defenseless.

A measure that makes it more difficult for people who are charged with animal cruelty to regain custody of their animals and tightens rules requiring them to pay the full costs and veterinary bills when the animals are confiscated. The bill, AB1500, by state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, was opposed by the California Federation of Dog Clubs and other breeding groups, which said it was an assault on the rights of pet owners.

Two bills that affect the state's Fish and Game operations. One, AB 2402, by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, changes the name of the agency to "Department of Fish and Wildlife," which downplays hunting. Another, AB2609, by Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, requires that members of the Fish and Game Commission have wildlife backgrounds and that the commission's president be elected by other commission members.

The bill was in response to a controversy earlier this year in which the president of the commission, real estate agent Dan Richards, was photographed with a mountain lion he killed in Idaho. The photo sparked a controversy because mountain lion hunting is illegal in California, and Richards became president of the commission based on seniority, not a majority vote.

Last year, Brown also signed a landmark bill banning the trade and sale of shark fins, which wildlife groups cheered and owners of some Chinese restaurants that serve shark fin soup opposed. And four years ago, voters overwhelming passed Proposition 2, which banned veal fattening pens and small crates used to confine chickens laying eggs. That measure passed easily despite $10 million spent by farm groups to oppose it.

"The message was that all animals, including those raised for food, deserve humane treatment. The public wants that," said Fearing. "Where laws are out of sync with public opinion, we've been trying to true that up."

Hunting groups are nervous. Much of the success has come since the Humane Society hired Fearing as a full-time lobbyist in Sacramento three years ago.

"On bills about cockfighting or humane treatment of dogs and cats, I don't have a problem with that," said Bill Gaines, president of the California Outdoor Heritage Association, a hunting group. "Hell, I have two dogs and cats at home. But when it comes to hunting, it's a whole different ballgame. They are chipping away, little by little."

Many of the bills, particularly on animal cruelty, have had Republicans joining Democrats.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a member of the Legislature who doesn't have a dog or cat or had one as a kid," said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita. "They treat them like a member of their family."

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