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From Fall / Winter 2003-2004 Issue

PATAKI VETOES CANNED HUNT BILL

By Peter Muller

This year the animal rights community in the country and in New York State in particular experienced an emotional rollercoaster ride as the NY State legislature attempted to outlaw canned hunts in the State.

As most of you know “canned hunts” are ethically the lowest form of hunting. In canned hunts, the target animals are confined to a fenced in area – sometimes they are even caged or tethered. A “sportsman” pays the operator of the “game preserve” a fixed fee to shoot the hapless, confined animal at close range. The hunter has his picture taken with his trophy and is whisked away to the après-kill lounge for cocktails while his trophy is turned over to the taxidermist. Most people, including many “ethical” hunters find this practice totally abhorrent and would like to see it outlawed.

Canned hunts have, in fact, been outlawed or severely curtailed in about 20 states. This year it was New York’s turn to join the list of the less barbaric states.

The New York state legislature has two houses: the Assembly and the state Senate. The Assembly districts are based strictly on population. Since most of the state’s population is around the metropolitan-New York City area, the Assembly is dominated by members representing the “downstate” population of the state. It’s an area that tends to be more liberal and chooses Democrats as representatives. The Senate is based on regions within the state. Since most of New York State’s geographic area is in the northern and western part of the state, the Senate is dominated by the “upstate” population which is largely conservative and Republican.

LOHV, and other groups concerned with animal protection, lobbied to get the canned hunt bill passed.

The first step was to get the bill introduced in both the Assembly and the Senate.

In the Assembly we had Scott Stringer from 67th Assembly District which covers Manhattan’s upper West Side. He is a very congenial man with a great sense of humor who loves animals – especially birds. Some years ago he had introduced a bill to ban canned hunts – in the process of becoming law it was mangled and corrupted so that it only applied to shooting preserves of less than ten acres. Since there weren’t any shooting preserves of less than 10 acres in New York it did absolutely nothing, but it was a start. Scott Stringer introduced a bill that was fabulous. Mincing no words, it simply outlawed canned hunts.

In the Senate, we had Frank Padavan of the 11th Senatorial District in Queens. Senator Padavan is probably called on for help more frequently by AR lobbyists in New York than any other senator. He sponsored a bill in the Senate with the same wording as the Assembly bill. Frank is an ex-hunter himself. He is opposed to canned hunts and all forms of animal abuse. He is one of the highest ranking Senators in New York. He is Vice-President Pro Temp of the Senate which means that he is only one step away from being the presiding officer of the senate. Perhaps a better indicator of his rank than his title is the location of his office. He is not in the LOB (Legislative office building) but in the capitol together with the governor and the presiding officers of the legislature.

After the introduction in both houses, the bills had to clear various committees – three in the Assembly and two in the Senate.

As expected, with a little encouragement from the contingent of AR lobbyists, the bill made it through all three Assembly committees in a little less than three months. After a bill passes all the committees of a legislative house, there is still a major hurdle – the bill has to be voted on by the entire house. In New York, the progression from the committees to the “floor vote” is not automatic. The presiding officer of the legislative house has to schedule it for a floor vote. Many a bill makes it through all the committees – but then never the gets voted on because the presiding officer doesn’t schedule it. The leader of the Assembly is Sheldon Silver from the 16th Assembly district in Lower Manhattan. This year, Sheldon Silver let it come to a floor vote and the Assembly voted in favor of the full Stringer bill by a vote of 98 to 48 on June 9th.

At that time, the legislature was focusing on just approving the budget and then adjourning for the rest of the year. We still had the Senate to go. In the Senate, as expected, we were up against the conservatives from upstate. We didn’t get the bill that Scott Stinger had introduced – but a greatly “watered down” version that would only prohibit canned hunts of “non-native big game mammals.” That left out birds – many shooting preserve in New York State offer birds to shoot to their clients. It also left out animals native to the region, such as whitetail deer. Now what? The bill went back to the Assembly in the modified form. I remember being on the phone with Scott Stringer’s aids very late on June 19th. They wanted to know if our organization would oppose the bill in that format. I had to think for a minute – but told them that we weren’t happy but we’d take it – “It’s better than a poke in the eye.”

Finally on June 20th, the watered-down bill had passed both houses. It was now ready for the governor’s signature. The presiding officer of the Senate, Joe Bruno, from the 43rd Senatorial District in Saratoga, delivers the bills that pass both houses to the governor. Our suspicion should have been aroused when he didn’t deliver the bill to the governor until August 14th – almost two months after the bill had passed both houses.

On August 26th, Governor Pataki vetoed the bill. It was clear what happened. A powerful lobby in New York is the Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau represents and lobbies for the New State farmers. There are about 340 deer and elk farmers in NY State who raise deer and elk to be slaughtered for venison. They also sell the antlers for medicinal and aphrodisiac purposes to primarily Asian countries. These farmers have recently experienced a loss of the aphrodisiac business due to Viagra. There is not much commercial demand for venison. However, about 40% of their revenue is derived from selling animals that are too old to be slaughtered to canned hunt operations. If canned hunt areas were outlawed they feel they could not withstand the additional loss of revenue. The governor caved in to the complaints of the Farm-Bureau, thus allowing the continuation of one of the vilest forms of animal torture and killing. His veto was truly an unconscionable decision for a governor whose mandate is to represent all 16 million New Yorkers, not merely 340 depraved deer farmers..

Governor George E. Pataki
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
Phone: 518-474-1041 and 518-474-8390
Fax: 518-474-1513
Email Form: http://www.state.ny.us/governor/form.htm  

Peter Muller is Chairman of LOHV League of Humane Voters USA www.humanevoters.org  

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