Missouri HB 1811 is a bill that allows cities to pass whatever animal control ordinances they choose as long as those laws do not discriminate based on breed.
Laws such as HB 1811 are often called "preemption laws" because they "preempt" cities from passing breed-discriminatory legislation (sometimes called BDL or BSL). Such laws have been passed in 19 states including: Utah, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Minnesota, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Colorado, California and South Carolina and have increased in popularity in recent years as state politicians have sought the need to prohibit cities from discriminatory legislative practices.
Thus far, Missouri HB 1811 has had overwhelming support among lawmakers.
It passed the the House Emerging Issues Committee 10-1.
It passed the House General Laws Committee 10-0.
It then passed a full vote of the Missouri House of Representatives passed 117-17 - a whopping 87% approval.
Based on most reports, the Senate widely supports the law also.
In mid-April, the bill went to the Senate and after passing two Senate readings was sent to the Agriculture Committee (which hears many animal issues) where it has screeched to a halt due to one person, Senator Brian Munzlinger, who chairs the committee.
Munzlinger admits on his personal Facebook page that it was his decision to remove the bill (twice!) from the committee agenda. He states that HB 1811 is not necessary because the law is redundant, stating that Section 067.0140 Ownership of domestic animals RSMO 67.140.1. That statute reads:
"No political subdivision of the state nor any local government, city, or county or agency, authority board, commission, department or officer thereof, shall enact any ordinance or issue any regulation, rule, policy, guideline or proclamation describing the relationship between persons and domestic animals as other than persons may or can own domestic animals."
While I'd welcome and support anyone suing their city with breed discriminatory laws under this statute, after discussing with several in the legal profession they feel the law is too vague to hold up in court as protecting against breed-specific policies. Even if it did, it would cost families affected by these laws (and taxpayers who pay for the court fees) tens of thousands of dollars and years in legal expenses to overturn all of these laws -- something that HB 1811 would do very swiftly if Mr. Munzlinger would simply put it on the committee agenda.
What makes this worse, is that based on most accounts, Munzlinger doesn't necessarily oppose the law -- but is actually retaliating against some that support the law because they opposed a law he tried to pass a year ago. So, in essence, the dogs, and the families that own them, have become a poker chip in the game of politics.
The bill has seen overwhelming support thus far in the legislature -- and nearly all of the public testimony has been in favor of the bill. The lone legitimate opposition has come from a handful of mayors of communities with breed-specific bans that are fighting to uphold their laws -- in spite of universal opposition from experts in animal welfare, veterinary, animal control, dog training and legal fields. These citites that are not listening to their citizens and experts in their communities are the very reason this law is necessary.
In spite of the support in the house, and the support in the professional community, it appears as if one person can have the power to derail a powerful and important bill.
But all is not lost. Munzlinger could still put on the committee agenda for this Wednesday. Or, the Senate could decide to send to a different committee -- although, given how late we are in the session, this will be a tough road. Or, the bill could be attached to another bill and voted on by the full Senate; circumventing the committee process altogether.
Regardless, it has become crystal clear that breed-specific laws have lost favor and now, public opinion and policy makers overwhelmingly support behavior based laws instead.
Of the 961 cities in Missouri, only 5% (approximately 50) still maintain breed-specific laws. Just in the past few years, at least 17 Missouri cities have repealed breed-specific laws, including: Ashland, Boonville, Grandview, Windsor, Kennett, Hallsville, Clayton, Riverside, Annapolis, Manchester, Town & Country, Wentzville, Chesterfield, Overland, Greenwood, Osceola and Belton.
The first 7 of those have repealed just since the Missouri preemption bill was introduced 2 years ago, including Ashland, who repealed a couple of weeks ago.
There is no doubt in my mind that breed-specific laws in Missouri will eventually disappear and fully replaced by behavior-based laws -- it's just a matter of time. Behavior-based laws are more fair, simpler to enforce and actually make communities safer. The public support is there. Science is there. The overwhelming opinion of experts is there. Cities are already doing it on their own accord. And when the laws have been brought before state legislators they have seen overwhelming support - 87% in favor-level support.
The bigger question is, when? How many family pets will have to be seized and killed before all bans are repealed? How many dogs will have to die before legislators step up and make it happen.
It could all end tomorrow if HB 1811 were allowed to go to vote.
I hope the legislators in the Senate will stand up and make this right. It's a chance to be on the right side of history.