Earlier today, the Missouri State Senate passed SB 113 by a vote of 20-14. SB 113 is designed to replace Missouri's Prop B -- which was passed by a citizen's ballot initiative back in November. Making changes to the bill is certainly within the state legislature's rights in the state of Missouri and is not at all uncommon in citizen ballot initiatives.
The bill now moves the House of Representatives - where it is expected to be approved and go to Governor Jay Nixon who is probably the last hope of supporters of Prop B to keep it in its current form
There have certainly been a lot of opinions out there about Prop B/SB 113 (I'll get to some of those in a bit), but I want to clear up exactly what SB 113 does (with a few comments).
1) SB 113 changes the name of the law -- from the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Act" to the "Canine Cruelty Prevention Act". This is clearly no big deal, and I think a good thing. I'm actually stunned that the state Attorney General allowed the original law name to stay.
2) It applies the law to all commercial breeders, animal shelters, rescues and dog pounds in the state. In all honesty, there are a lot of civic animal shelters that do need to be cleaned up also.
3) It raises the maximum fee for obtaining a license from $500 to $2500. It also requires each licensee to pay $25 each year that is dedicated to the Department of Agriculture to help fund Operation Bark Alert.
First of all, the money for Operation Bark Alert is fantastic. The 2 year old program has been responsible for shutting down more than 360 breeding operations shut down in the past 2 years and more than 4300 dogs rescued from substandard breeding facilities. This program has been a huge success and to see more funding for the program is a great win.
As for the other fees, I don't know how they will be assigned. There is no note on how much fees will actually increase, but raising the minimum was very important. The lack of enforcement of the state's current laws has been well-documented, and the decision increase fees is consistent with recommendations from the State Auditor's Report and the Better Business Bureau. Increasing funding, to increase enforcement (on not only adequately doing inspections, but also in enforcement actions against violators of the law) is essential to successfully dealing with the 'puppy mill' problem here in Missouri. I'm obviously concerned about how high the fees will get hiked up on shelters and rescues, but overall, the need for revenue here is really important to solving the problem and I obviously support higher fees for the breeding operations (which haven't been raised since 1993).
4) SB 113 removes the 50 breeding dog limit. I know a lot of people are really upset by this, but I think this one is a legal issue for the state and will cause a lot of problems with the opening of more breeding operations, dogs going to auction and dogs getting killed at our shelters. There has been little doubt in my mind that this provision was going away.
5) SB 113 removes the criminal codes which were somewhat poorly written. The law does replace these provisions with higher fees and penalties for repeat offenders of the act. This is something that badly needed to be done and is also consistent with the recommendations from the State Auditor and the Better Business Bureau. I will be talking to some folks in the coming days to see if I can get a feel for how well-written these provisions are.
6) The new law also makes it a Class A misdemeanor to stack cages without an impervious layer between the cages.
7) Necessary Veterinary Care has been redefined so that instead of each animal needing an annual inspection, the facility must have a visual inspection of the shelter twice a year and any dog that shows signs of disease or injury must get a full inspection by a licenced veterinarian.
8) Regular exercise has been redefined from "constant and unfettered access to the outdoors" to "the type and amount of exercise sufficient to comply with an exercise plan that is approved by a licensed veterinarian....and where such pan affords the dog maximum opportunity for outdoor exercise as weather permits." I certainly like that they tried to keep the spirit of the law, and was never a fan of the "unfettered access" wording. I have been told by some this is more enforceable than it might sound. Also, keep in mind this rule applies to shelters and rescues also.
9) Sufficient Housing has been redefined. It is no longer necessary for cage to have a solid floor and the temperature restrictions have been eliminated. They have been replaced by to mandate that the dog have a solid surface to lie down on, properly ventilated and protected from the extremes of weather conditions.
10) It also eliminated prop B's cage size requirements. I would be supportive of increasing the kennel sizes for animals kept in cages. But let's keep in mind that this one also applies to rescues -- which could have been problematic. I'm sure there is a way to increase the kennel sizes for long-term type of dogs vs those in short-term care, but this probably had to go away if they were going to make this law apply to all animal care facilities.
You can read the law in its entirety here (which I recommend -- it's only 7 pages. Wording in Bold is new language. Wording in brackets has been removed).
While I realize why some supporters or Prop B are upset, these changes are not "eviscerated" or "gutted" or "kicking puppies" or any of the other outrageous things that are being said. Certainly there are some elements that could have been better -- however, the Senate removed some of the obvious problems with the bill AND added some very important funding clauses, based on solid recommendations for state agencies, that will likely do more to solve the real enforcement issues than Prop B would have if left untouched.
And yet, there is outrage in some small circles. It's amazing to me that Wayne Pacelle of HSUS can write a blog that states that the Senate passed a bill to "eviscerate" Prop B -- and that the Senate "gutted" Prop B (including the headline "Democracy Neutered") without mentioning, even once in the two blog posts, that the Senate addressed the key issue of lack of enforcement issues head on with higher fees or that they ensured the funding for Operation Bark -- a service that he credits for its success in the latter of the two links above. (For the record, this is inexplicably the first mention of Operation Bark's success I've seen from HSUS). Providing more funding was badly needed and was foolishly omitted from the writing of Prop B.
Leaving out this information really does make it seem as if Pacelle is hiding some of the truth (cough) and is more concerned about getting HSUS's law passed than he is about solving the problem. In many ways, HSUS should be celebrating this change. Through the ballot initiative they were able to get the legislature to take action on something they have waited too long to do and provided funding options to help solve the problem. Wasn't that the point? Meanwhile, instead of recognizing some of Prop B's flaws and making some compromises, HSUS took themselves out of the equation by insisting that their law stand. As is. No exceptions. I think if they had come to the table willing to compromise they might have been able to keep some of the other provisions.
In November, Missouri voters for Prop B -- because they wanted the puppy mill problem in the state to end. If the law had been better written, it would have passed by 75% (not 51.6%). People want the problems solved. My hope is that SB 113 will be an even better solution than Prop B....it at least tackles the core problem.
For more information:
MissouriNet -- at the bottom of the link is the audio to the 45 minute Senate Debate from today
Kansas City Dog's Examiner has a solid perspective on the issue