I-Team examines bill that'd end California's ban on kangaroo products

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ByDan Noyes via KGO logo
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
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A battle over kangaroos is giving us new insight into how the California legislature works. A Southern California assemblymember is coming under fire for avoiding the normal vetting process.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- A battle over kangaroos is giving us new insight into how the California Legislature works, and how they sometimes avoid the normal vetting process for a controversial measure. A Southern California assemblyman is coming under fire for the moves he's making.

In 1970, California first banned products made from kangaroo skin, such as soccer cleats and gloves. That ban was suspended for the past eight years and is set to go back into effect at the end of this year. But, not so fast.

UPDATE: Late Friday evening on Sept. 11, 2015, this bill failed to reach a vote. Therefore, a state ban on kangaroo products takes effect once again at the end of the year. This comes two days after the ABC7 I-Team questioned the assembly member behind the kangaroo bill, Mike Gipson. His spokesman did not return our email asking for comment.

Mike Gipson is a freshman assemblyman from Southern California. His district includes Carson, Compton and North Long Beach. He's open about where he got the idea for his latest and most controversial measure.

"The Australian Government have, as well as other people, approached me around this particular measure," he said.

According to Gipson, his constituents enjoy soccer cleats and gloves made from kangaroo hides, and he wants to end the state ban of those products for good. He's also concerned about California's business relationship with Australia.

Gipson: "Not to mention jobs as it relates to, will be placed in jeopardy as it relates to this bill."

Noyes: "Which jobs? Which jobs are going to be in jeopardy?"

Gipson: "Well, the jobs that through this particular bill, the import and export of the kangaroo."

Australia culls millions of kangaroos each year; they outnumber people there. The Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS, calls that "the world's largest wildlife slaughter" and opposes Gipson's efforts.

"I think everything about this stinks," said Jennifer Fearing with the HSUS. "I think it's all meant to be cloaked in secrecy and obfuscate a real conversation."

Gipson did not follow the normal procedure of introducing a bill early in the session and holding committee hearings. He took a bill he authored on gambling back in February, AB-1188 and, just last week, gutted and amended it, turning it into the kangaroo bill.

Gipson will need a two-thirds vote in the Senate and in the Assembly by this Friday to pass the measure.

Gipson: "So, I have to get a 54-vote in the State Assembly. So 29 votes, I believe, in the State Senate in order for it to pass through."

Noyes: "But in three days though, right?"

Gipson: "In three days."

Noyes: "But, is that not a rush process?"

Gipson: "No."

Gipson believes at some point in the next few days, he'll hold a committee meeting where the public can voice their opinions.

Sacramento State government studies professor Wesley Hussey told the I-Team, "Sometimes these bills go through committee in 20 minutes, and 10 other gut and amend bills will join them and it will be a very quick hearing."

READ MORE: Sworn complaint: California imports of kangaroo products

He adds that gut and amend is a California concept that's not seen in other states or the federal government, and that oversight is weakening.

"There used to be a process where a committee would review the gut and amend changes and they have to be at least the same topic," said Hussey. "And that's going away; the extra regulation involved if you're going to do a gut and amend has disappeared."

An animal rights activist has filed this complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, saying the Australian Government has funneled money through a kangaroo industry trade group to a Sacramento lobbyist to influence the debate.

A check of political contribution records shows 14 lawmakers received money from that lobbyist, including $1,000 to Mike Gipson.

"If you're asking me have I, am I carrying this bill for that particular reason? The answer is no," Gipson said.

Fearing with the HSUS said, "We have seen members of the Australian Consulate lobbying alongside these paid lobbyists in the building last week. People should be concerned about a foreign government's influence here that's not being disclosed to their people or ours."

Editorials in the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee say Gipson should drop the kangaroo bill, in part because of his gut and amend tactic.

Dan Noyes is posting more of the interviews with both sides of the issue on his Facebook page. He'll keep track of what happens and get back to you.