By Tim Hearden
A slightly watered-down bill to crack down on cattle rustling is in the state Senate after breezing through the Assembly on a series of unanimous votes. The bill by rancher and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals, seeks to increase penalties for livestock theft, which he and California Cattlemen's Association officials have said is on the rise.
Bigelow's Assembly Bill 924 would base penalties on the value of the livestock stolen and use money from fines to augment the state's Bureau of Livestock Identification, which investigates thefts. However, gone is a provision to allow prosecutors to seek jail time for repeat offenders, as concerns about prison overcrowding threatened to stall the bill.
The bill "does do something very beneficial" even without the jail time provisions, said Justin Oldfield, the CCA's vice president of government relations.
"The Bureau of Livestock Identification is fee-based," he said. "This would be an additional resource they can use. Even if it's only $50,000 a year, that's still money in their pockets for them to go out and investigate cases of theft. Ultimately the bureau works with law enforcement on this stuff."
Bigelow's legislation passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee by a 7-0 vote April 30 and cleared the Assembly floor, 77-0, on May 30. It now faces a hearing in the Senate Public Safety Committee, likely after lawmakers return from their summer recess.
While some outside the cattle industry may think of cattle rustling as just a fixture of old Western movies and TV shows, it's actually a high-tech activity in which thieves steal numbers of cattle and sell them in a black market or alter their brands, falsify inspection documents and sneak them out of state, CCA president Tim Koopmann has explained.
In 2012, the Bureau of Livestock Identification reported that 1,110 head of cattle were stolen -- a value of nearly $1 million, said Koopmann, a Sunol, Calif., rancher. More....