By David Madden

TRENTON (CBS) – Efforts to combat dog fighting got a big boost in a New Jersey assembly committee, which has cleared a bill that tightens animal cruelty laws in the state.

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The bipartisan bill sets dog fighting as a third degree crime and designates leaders of a ring as violators of New Jersey’s racketeering law with lengthier jail terms as a result.

Deborah Bresch with the ASPCA says this will go a long way to controlling what is, in her mind, nothing short of organized crime.

“You have individuals who are involved in the actual dog fighting and then the folks who are managing and funding dog fighting and causing it to proliferate across the country,” said Bresch.

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Veterinarian Nancy Halpern, as a member of the state Bar Association, supports the changes.

“It sets forth the criminals that would be considered leaders, but also anyone who would facilitate these kinds of crimes with the appropriate intent and also the appropriate discretion that the judges and juries have as far as penalties that could be afforded,” said Halpern.

Violators could face 3 to 5 years in jail, leaders twice that.

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The measure now moves to the full Assembly for a vote whenever the Speaker schedules it.