TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Jim Norman, the Tampa Republican who drew fire from animal-rights groups earlier in the lawmaking session, took part in a markedly different event Monday, this time siding with the activists.
Norman is sponsoring a bill that would no longer immediately classify fighting dogs as dangerous. And he engaged in some show and tell at a news conference to prove his legislative point.
"This is a dog that has been typified as a vicious-type animal," Norman said as he displayed Dolly the pit bull on the floor of the rotunda between the Florida House and Senate. The friendly pooch posed for photos and occasionally gave Rep. Luis Garcia a playful lick in the face.
Animal-rights advocates pounced on Norman when he filed a bill that would have made it a serious crime for anyone to take photos or video of a farm or its animals without the property owner's consent. The measure targeted activists who sneak onto farms to capture footage of agricultural practices and conditions they consider cruel.
An amended version of the bill downgraded the penalty. It also spelled out that law enforcement and state officers can conduct inspections or investigations, and allowed photographs taken from the road or by air without going on private property.
Activists still oppose that proposal. But it has nothing to do with Norman's support for giving dogs found in fighting rings a second chance, the state senator said in an interview.
"I've always been a big animal person," he said. The earlier bill, he said, has gotten an unfair "slant." "What we're trying to do is protect an agriculture industry," he said.
Dolly the pit bull arrived at a Central Florida animal shelter a little over a year ago. Her muzzle was scarred, some of her teeth were filed down and others were missing — telltale signs that she was used as a bait dog to train other dogs how to fight.
Under Florida law, Dolly — even as a presumed bait dog — is considered dangerous for having been in a fighting ring. The designation makes it more difficult for a dog to be adopted, since owners may have to pay extra fees, register their dogs and have a hard time qualifying for insurance.
Those obstacles mean dangerous dogs are often euthanized, animal-rights groups say. They are supporting the bill — put forth in the House by Garcia, D-Miami Beach — calling for each dog to be evaluated individually to see if it is eligible for rehabilitation and, eventually, adoption. Dolly is now a therapy dog that visits a retirement home in Longwood to keep seniors company.
The bill has moved to the House floor and cleared its second Senate committee Monday.
Patricia Mazzei can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.