Missouri governor signs compromise on voter-approved Prop. B, 'Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act'
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri officials pushed through new regulations for the state's dog breeders in a flurry of legislative activity Wednesday that started with Gov. Jay Nixon signing one bill repealing sections of a voter-approved dog-breeding law and ended with the governor signing another measure that implemented a deal between dog breeders and welfare groups.
The maneuvering was needed to pass a compromise on new rules for Missouri dog breeders that was brokered by Nixon's administration and supported by several state-based agriculture and animal-welfare groups. Nixon called the new legislation "a dramatic, important, significant step" that would improve the care of dogs while ensuring breeders can continue to operate. The industry has an estimated $1-billion impact in Missouri.
In the end, Nixon and lawmakers eliminated parts of the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act" passed last November by voters, including a limit of 50 breeding dogs per business. Other portions were changed. The new law seeks potential middle ground on the specifics of the living-space requirements, and it gives breeders more time to comply with the new rules.
Nixon said voters' support of the dog measure this past fall was an important impetus toward reaching the final agreement and had changed the discussion about regulation of dog breeders.
"But for the action of the public, there wouldn't have been another force that was necessary to coalesce people to make these changes," Nixon said. Later he added: "Their votes did matter."
The ballot measure, called Proposition B, was approved by about 52% of the statewide vote as supporters in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas outweighed opposition in much of the rest of the state. The initiative was scheduled to take effect as law this November. The bill Nixon initially signed superseded that by making changes that take effect Aug. 28. But the compromise measure that Nixon signed last repeals the earlier bill and takes effect immediately.
Supporters of the voter-approved law said Missouri's previous regulations for breeders were too weak, allowing operators to keep dogs in wire cages and exposed to excess heat and cold. Critics of the voter-backed law have said it would wipe out the dog-breeding industry by forcing costly renovations to facilities and effectively limiting how many dogs the businesses can sell.
Several of the national animal groups that helped to finance the dog ballot measure oppose Nixon's compromise. Some have said that they could seek to put the issue back on the ballot through it was unclear if one option -- a referendum of the new law -- was still available.
"It is a far cry from what the voters put in place under Proposition B," said Cori Menkin, the senior director of legislative initiatives for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "I don't think the compromise is much of a compromise."
The voter-backed law required an indoor floor space of at least 25 square feet for small dogs, 30 square feet for medium-size dogs and 35 square feet for large dogs. The new law approved by Nixon doubles the state's previous minimum space requirements by January 2012 and triples them by January 2016 for existing breeders when wire flooring also would be prohibited. Any dog-housing facilities constructed after April 15 will have to comply with the tripled space requirements immediately.
It also attempts to compromise on veterinary visits. The voter-approved law requires at least one yearly exam with prompt treatment for any illness or injury. Lawmakers changed that to two annual visual inspections that did not need to be a hands-on exam in the first bill Nixon signed. Ultimately, there must be one yearly exam and prompt treatment of a "serious illness or injury."
The new law also requires dogs to have continuous access to water, access to food at least twice daily -- an increase from the ballot measure's once daily mandate -- but looser than the voter-approved law because "generally" is inserted in front of a requirement that water be free of debris, feces, algae and other contaminants.
Plus for state licenses, dog breeders could pay up to $2,500, instead of the current $500 maximum, and will pay an extra $25 annual fee to finance state efforts to crack down on unlicensed dog breeders.
"It's going to go a long way to curb our reputation as a puppy mill capital," said Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City).
-- Chris Blank, Associated Press
Photo: Dogs rest under the shade of a tarp after being removed from a puppy mill operation that had been shut down by the Marion County Humane Society on April 5 in Jefferson, Tex. Credit: Courtney Case / Associated Press