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A horse grazes at Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area in western Colorado.    

One of the more contentious debates over a bill that would have almost no impact on the industry it's trying to regulate got just hot enough on Thursday to cost it the Democratic support it needed to move forward.

Senate Bill 38 originally was intended to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, would address a problem that doesn't exist in Colorado, or anywhere else in the United States.

The last slaughterhouse in the United States that handled horses, in Texas, was shuttered in 2007. Those facilities still exist in Mexico and Canada, with importation of the horse meat to countries where it's considered a delicacy. China, Kazakhstan and Mexico are the top consuming countries. 

The bill as introduced wasn't what was negotiated with ag groups last summer, as evidenced by testimony in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in a Feb. 16 hearing. 

Those opposed to the bill included Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and Colorado Woolgrowers Association. 

Landon Gates, representing the two latter groups, said they were shocked by the original version of SB 38, which was not what Jaquez Lewis told them it would address. The bill she proposed last summer was about how horses are transported. 

Jaquez Lewis offered a rewrite of the bill in the ag committee that went back to what was originally agreed upon with the ag groups: to require humane transportation of 20 or more horses headed for slaughter to those foreign country slaughterhouses, along with a change in the title to reflect that new language.

But that also raised questions about whether such a law would even be enforceable, particularly once the transport has left Colorado.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Jaquez Lewis offered a new amendment that walked back the compromise with the ag groups.

The strike-below, she said, would condone the transport of horses for slaughter. Her new amendment would help identify those who buy horses at auctions with the purpose to sending them off to slaughter.

"It's a meeting of the minds," she said.

Not according to fellow Democrats on the ag committee. Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, the ag committee chair, said the bill went through a long process in his committee. "We all agreed, working with the ag community" and others on the strike-below, and hinted that without it the bill would not have gotten out of the ag committee. 

Advocating for a "no" vote on the new amendment, Roberts said it significantly alters the strike-below and changes the agreement made with the ag groups. It would move the bill's title back to the original, also not supported by the ag groups. 

Roberts reiterated that horse slaughter doesn't happen either in Colorado or even in the United States. To prohibit something that happens in Mexico and Canada through a state law in Colorado isn't realistic, he argued, and the bill isn't enforceable.

In addition, the bill would put a chilling effect on horse owners who are looking for new homes for sick horses or those that they can't keep anymore, he added.

Jaquez Lewis disputed the claim the bill wouldn't be enforceable. 

The change also cost the bill the support of Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, D-Pueblo, the ag committee's vice-chair. "What was agreed upon, and that we could all support, without harming the ag industry, is that standards in place in law for ethical transportation of horses should be enforced," and that's what led to the strike-below. "This amendment undoes all of that agreement."

While the bill, along with the new amendment, was declared approved by the Senate (despite the "no" votes being considerably louder than the "yes" votes), the opponents didn't give up.

When the Senate confirmed its work through the committee of the whole report, Roberts took to the mic again, asking that the bill be declared dead. 

Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, also on the ag committee, said he voted for the bill and new amendment, because it would dissuade kill buyers on the economics. 

"There are a lot of forces down here on many bills, that use process...as a way to get what they want. I'm here to call bull**** on that," which earned him a fine from the Senate President.

"I get that things are amended" from one committee to another, and there was no grand deal that the bill would not be changed, Hinrichsen said. But there were agreements made on the bill that were entirely erased, he said. It would mean the committee process does not matter, he argued.

The vote on the committee of the whole amendment, which would kill the bill, passed 20-14, with eight Democrats siding with the 12 Republicans. 

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