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Animal advocates win some, lose some as Schwarzenegger signs bills

October 13, 2009 |  7:36 am

GovIn a last-minute signing-and-vetoing frenzy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took action -- albeit not always the action animal advocates hoped for -- late Sunday on a number of animal-related bills that were approved during the recently-concluded legislative session.

Schwarzenegger had a midnight deadline to act on more than 700 bills awaiting his signature. But in a move designed to force legislators to reach an agreement over upgrades to the state's water system, the governor had threatened to refrain from signing any new bills until a water agreement had been reached.

Sunday, he said he was satisfied that legislators had made sufficient progress on the water deal, and he signed 230 of the bills into law, vetoing 221 -- and he announced that a special legislative session to deal with the water issue would begin this week.

Animal-related issues requiring his signature had mixed success, with the governor signing four and vetoing three.  

Among the bills signed by Schwarzenegger was SB 135, introduced by state Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter), which will outlaw the practice of docking dairy cows' tails except in the case of medical necessity.  Schwarzenegger had previously derided the bill in a very public forum -- his 1-million-followers-plus Twitter feed -- scoffing that "the Legislature is about to debate whether cows can keep their tails while we're in a fiscal crisis." 

The comment prompted the Humane Society of the United States, which supported the bill, to fire back; Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle responded that Schwarzenegger was "acting like a demagogue and a bully" in panning the legislation and called the governor's record on animal issues "pitiful."

Despite the rancorous back story, Schwarzenegger sided with the cows over the objections of some in the dairy industry who argued, among other objections, that the procedure was not commonly used anyway.

Florez "He just makes a comment without thinking much about it, but when it comes time to assess it on its own merits, he's made the right decision, in our view, a few times," Gene Baur, president and co-founder of the animal-protection group Farm Sanctuary, told the Associated Press after news broke that the governor had signed the bill.  Florez, for his part, added that he was pleased Schwarzenegger "had the intestinal fortitude to reverse himself" in signing the bill despite his earlier comments.

Another bill that received Schwarzenegger's signature was AB 242, introduced by Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), which addresses the issue of dogfighting, substantially increasing the penalties for spectators caught attending fights. The new law will double the maximum jail time and increase the maximum fine fivefold, making the maximum penalty one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Schwarzenegger also signed a separate bill pertaining to dogfighting, SB 318 by Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), which authorizes the seizure of fight-related property and profits from convicted dogfighters.

Also receiving the governor's stamp of approval was AB 708 by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-Marin), which increases penalties for poaching wildlife and fish in the state.

But Schwarzenegger also vetoed other bills that pertain to animals, including two introduced by Nava, AB 241 and AB 243, and AB 1122 by Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). 

AB 241, also called the "Responsible Breeder Act," would have imposed a limit of 50 unsterilized dogs and cats that could be owned by an individual or business for the purpose of breeding animals for the pet market. (The bill would not have affected shelters, rescue organizations, groups that breed animals for service or police work, veterinary facilities or boarding kennels.) While many animal advocates argued that the bill would help to curb the scourge of puppy mills, Schwarzenegger balked at what he called "an arbitrary cap" with "the potential to criminalize the lawful activities of reputable breeders, pet stores, kennels and charitable organizations engaged in raising service and assistance dogs," our colleagues Eric Bailey and Evan Halper reported from Sacramento.

AB 243 would have prevented those convicted of certain animal-abuse crimes from being able to own or care for other animals, and AB 1122 would have outlawed sales of animals at roadsides and in parking lots.

Pacelle was upbeat after the governor's actions Sunday, but expressed disappointment at the vetoes of AB 241, 243 and 1122.  "But I guess we should not feel entirely singled out" in light of a wide variety of bills vetoed by the governor, the Humane Society honcho mused on his blog.  "His desk is a dead-end for a wide variety of reforms to improve society." (Ouch.) 

Jennifer Fearing, the Humane Society's senior director in California, said Schwarzenegger was out of step with the voters in his state, who notably passed last year's Proposition 2 (which addressed farm-animal welfare) by a wide margin. 

"Californians have no taste for animal cruelty, and they oppose it at every turn. The Legislature had its collective finger on that pulse this session, with Republicans and Democrats speaking out strongly against the ills of puppy mills, farm animal mutilations, dogfighting and animal abuse," Fearing said.  "The governor's actions were characteristically schizophrenic, revealing him to be out of touch and lacking a genuine intuition for how strongly Californians feel about the plight of animals.

"But to paraphrase the Governator," Fearing added "'we'll be baaaaack.'"

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, others call on Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign animal-welfare bills

-- Lindsay Barnett

Top photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during a Sept. 29 news conference in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Lower photo: State Sen. Dean Florez, who introduced a bill to outlaw the docking of dairy cows' tails. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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