Washington – Efforts for Congress to approve a moratorium on the law extending the ban on cockfighting to Puerto Rico are reaching a decisive moment, as there only have 20 days left until an economic activity that represents up to $65 million annually for the island is declared illegal.
As Congress returns to session Monday and Tuesday after a 10-day Thanksgiving recess, the cockfighting industry and Puerto Rico’s government are racing against time to convince the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to postpone the implementation of the ban passed in December 2018.
The destiny of some language seeking to stop the ban on cockfighting in Puerto Rico will go hand in hand with attempts to pass the federal budget for fiscal year 2020, which is scheduled for December 20, the same day the ban on cockfighting – an activity regulated as a sport in Puerto Rico – would take effect.
According to several sources, the decision whether or not to move forward with at least a year´s moratorium is largely in the hands of the chairs of the Agriculture Committees, Republican Senator Pat Roberts (Kansas) and Democratic Representative Collin Peterson (Minnesota), and minority ranking members , Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Texas Republican Michael Conaway.
"We need the of the four leaders of the Committees (Agriculture), so that it can be incorporated (the measure) in the Appropriations Committee," said lobbyist Paul Weiss, of Prime Policy Group, who is pushing in Congress on behalf of the Asociación Cultural y Recreativa del Gallo Fino de Pelea.
Amid pressure from groups fighting animal abuse, such as Humane Society, the biggest stumbling block seems to be convincing Democratic Senator Stabenow, said the president of the Asociación Cultural y Recreativa del Gallo Fino de Pelea Jeohvanni Nieves.
Although Republicans control the Senate -53-47- they need the minority approval to take most of the bills to a final vote.
"This is an uphill process," said Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González. González said that seeking to include some language to support the moratorium, she will also examine the possibility of including the proposal in some agricultural measure that may need to be approved in December.
However, Weiss noted that there does not seem to be any agricultural bill in the agenda by December 20 that could be used as a legislative vehicle.
Therefore, in this scenario, the proposal to approve a moratorium on the ban on cockfights in Puerto Rico and other territories will rest on the also complicated possibilities that Congress leadership reaches a final agreement on the 2020 federal budget before December 20, which would open the door to include a multiplicity of issues to that bill.
If the federal government agrees again on another short-term budget resolution – such as the one in effect until December 20 – the limited chances of achieving a moratorium will reduce even further, as the next temporary fiscal measure is likely to be a limited bill with very few additional issues to the extension of the current spending level.
"We are looking for an extension for Congress to study the economic impact of the ban on cockfighting," said Nieves, who believes that without a moratorium "it will be a sad Christmas for the “galleros” (rooster breeders), their families , farming areas and businesses” that benefit from the events organized in the island’s authorized cockfighting arenas.
Both the Asociación and Commissioner González focus their hopes in the bill the Puerto Rican Legislature approved a few days day seeking to declare cockfights as purely intra-state activities and that the federal law focuses on describing the industry as an interstate business.
That bill –Governor Vázquez has to sign into law – seeks to the federal restrictions imposed by law. The bill, originally drafted by New Progressive Party (PNP) Representative Urayoán Hernández, proposes a study on the restrictions included in the federal agricultural law that banned cockfighting in Puerto Rico and other territories, as of December 20.
Rooster breeders have also challenged the constitutionality of the federal ban. At the end of October, Federal District Judge Gustavo Gelpí rejected the lawsuit filed by the Club Gallístico de Puerto Rico and by the Asociación Cultural y Recreativa del Gallo Fino de Pelea, seeking to declare unconstitutional the law that extended the ban on the cockfighting industry to Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories.
Currently, industry representatives are waiting for the review they have asked the First Circuit of Federal Appeals, in Boston, where they are also trying to stop the implementation of the ban.
If attempts to prevent the ban on cockfighting events fail, Weiss asked whether the U.S. government will have the necessary resources in Puerto Rico to arrest and prosecute those participating in such clandestine activities and fight crime too.
Nieves thinks that declaring cockfighting illegal while the activity is a regulated business is a contradiction.
Although the ban in the United States dates back several years, Nieves noted that there are still clandestine cockfights virtually in every state. Nieves also questioned the ability of the federal government, specifically the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to put a stop on a tradition strongly rooted in Puerto Rico.
The government and the private sector estimate that the cockfighting business generates between $ 18 and $ 65 million annually, as well as about 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.
According to the Executive Director at Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), Jennifer Storipan, her office has supported the Commissioner’s efforts to gain the support of the Congressional Agriculture committees leaderships and stressed on “the possible impact” that the ban would have on the Puerto Rican economy, which is still in crisis.