CARSON CITY — State Sen. Mark Manendo might not be able to talk to the animals but he has made their cause his own in the Nevada Legislature.
The Las Vegas Democrat authored two bills and one resolution aimed at animal rights issues in the 2013 session, including Senate Bill 72, which prohibits intentional horse tripping at rodeos. All three passed.
He was also a primary sponsor on two other measures, including a bill that did not pass that would have put limits on the ownership of dangerous wild animals.
A group called Nevada Political Action for Animals named Manendo its “Legislator of the Year” for his work on animal rights issues and honored him at a Las Vegas luncheon last weekend.
“How we treat our animals is really a testament to how compassionate we are as a society,” Manendo said in response to the honor. “The passage of these bills will provide additional protections for helpless animals that have no voice.”
Manendo said his two dogs, a beagle named Carson and a poodle he rescued called Coco, are like family to him and helped get him involved in animal rights issues in the Legislature.
“People love their pets,” he said. “I never realized how big an issue animal rights issues was until I posted some comments on Facebook. It just exploded and people reached out to me.”
Beverlee McGrath, legislative advocate for the animal association, said it was a record year in the Legislature for animal rights issues, with 11 bills passing and two “bad” bills being defeated.
One of those “bad” bills was Senate Bill 333, which would have allowed private shooting reserves in Nevada.
McGrath works as an unpaid lobbyist on animal rights issues in Nevada, representing a number of groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA, the Nevada Humane Society of Reno and others.
The ASPCA, in a statement issued after the session ended in June, cited nine of the bills that passed in praising lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval for their support for animal rights issues.
HORSE TRIPPING BILL CRITICIZED
But Manendo’s honor has played up a conflict between Nevada Political Action for Animals and another animal rights advocate who works in Southern Nevada.
Las Vegas animal rights advocate Gina Greisen, president of Nevada Voters for Animals, has criticized McGrath for being unfamiliar with Nevada and pushing legislation that has had unintended and negative consequences.
“There is no question that Mark is a friend of animals,” Greisen said. “But his judgment has been clouded by an out-of-state lobbyist who doesn’t understand Nevada politics and does not understand Clark County politics.”
Greisen said McGrath has made big campaign contributions to Nevada lawmakers and as a result, longtime Southern Nevada animal rights groups are not getting access to lawmakers like they have in the past.
Because of this, some of the legislation being touted as good for animals is doing the opposite, she said.
Manendo’s horse-tripping bill is a good example, Greisen said. The new law prohibits intentionally tripping a horse for sport, but it does not prohibit roping the legs of a horse and then releasing it as part of a horse roping event, she said.
“No one should be able to throw a rope at the legs of a running horse,” Greisen said.
Clark County has an ordinance banning horse tripping in its entirety, but now there is a move by some members of the County Commission to change its local law to reflect the state law, she said.
There are concerns as well with some of the language in Assembly Bill 246, a new law that “bans” the sale of live animals at swap meets, she said. The problem is the ban does not apply if the swap meet is held in a county or city that has adopted an ordinance authorizing the sale of animals, Greisen said.
“We don’t support legislation that weakens existing laws or just for the sake of passing ‘something’ which ends up being so damaging because of all the unintended consequences,” she said.
MANENDO: BEST THAT COULD BE DONE
Manendo said the horse tripping bill was the best that could be crafted in the session, and he said it is important because it is the first law to address the issue statewide.
The catch-and-release portion of the law was inserted in the bill late in the session to win the support of the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus, which opposed the bill in its original form.
Oscar Peralta, a legislative intern who testified at the first hearing on the bill, said there is no independent, verifiable data that the activities targeted by the bill pose an unreasonable risk of harm or stress to animals.
“We do not believe that culture alone is ever an absolute defense, but an indictment of cherished cultural traditions should not be sustained unless it meets a high burden of proof,” he said.
McGrath said she and the groups she represents also oppose the horse tripping bill language allowing catch and release, and that they will work to remove it. But there is no reason the Clark County ordinance cannot be stronger than the state law, she said.
In response to some of Greisen’s criticisms, McGrath said: “I think there is room for all kinds of groups in Nevada; the more the better. Any discussion where there are new bills or amendments I always include as many people as I can for input. But Gina is not a team player.”
McGrath said she has contributed some of her personal wealth to Nevada lawmakers and candidates, including $5,000 to Manendo in 2011.
McGrath, who is from California, said she owns a home at Zephyr Cove at Lake Tahoe, has other Nevada property and has worked closely with the many Nevada animal rights groups.
Manendo praised McGrath for her knowledge of the legislative process and her lobbying skills.
“Beverlee understands that you need to compromise and work with members of both parties in both houses,” he said.
He also praised Greisen’s tireless efforts on behalf of animal rights, but said it would be better if all the groups could work together.
“When groups fight among themselves, it gives lawmakers an excuse to kill a bill,” Manendo said.
While Manendo and several of his colleagues were feted by animal rights groups, Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, led in the “rotten tomato” awards from the group.
Hansen, who did not introduce any animal oriented bills in the session, did serve on the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee that heard the measures.
Hansen congratulated Manendo for his honor and said he has a house full of pets that his family loves.
“I think where we part company is they start putting animals on the same plain as human beings,” he said of some of the animal rights groups.
Hansen said the horse tripping bill was misguided, calling the practice a unique form of horse roping. There is no intent to harm a horse at the events, he said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900.