Thursday, April 14, 2011

MO House approves revisions to controversial Proposition B

By DOUG WILSON Herald-Whig Senior Writer

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Legislation regulating dog breeders was approved in the Missouri House Wednesday afternoon, revising many of the provisions from Proposition B.

"It strengthens the law," said Rep. Craig Redmon, R-Canton.

Rep. Tom Shively, D-Clarence, said the legislation is a big improvement over Prop B, which passed in November. He said Prop B would have put many of Missouri's dog breeders out of business, but was so poorly written it would have done nothing to boost inspections.

"This requires more supervision by veterinarians (and inspectors), which to me ought to be the final authority on whether you're running the operation right," Shively said.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, who has not said whether he will sign it into law.

Officials from the Humane Society of the United States did not immediately comment on Wednesday's 85-71 vote, but have opposed any changes in the initiative petition the group supported.

"Whether you care about protecting dogs from abuse, or care about the democratic decision-making process, this assault on the will of the people must be stopped," HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a release last month.

Senate Bill 113 would provide more money for inspectors who monitor breeding operations -- potentially hiring five new inspectors to join the Missouri Department of Agriculture's staff of 12. It would require at least two visits per year from veterinarians. Supporters say those things will make breeders more accountable.

It would remove the 50-dog limit that was supposed to take effect later this year. It also would eliminate some of the changes in criminal law that could have made violators subject to Class A misdemeanor charges and up to a year in jail.

Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, has gotten calls from people who were angry he supported revisions to Prop B. He sent them copies of SB 113 and asked them to read it and call back if they still had concerns.

"I haven't had anybody call me back yet once they saw what the law does. I think it really does the things people thought they were voting on in Prop B," Munzlinger said.

License fees for dog breeders could cost as much as $2,500 under the new law, up from a cap of $500. In addition, a $25 fee per facility will fund Operation Bark Alert.

HSUS was instrumental in financing advertisements supporting Prop B and the initiative petition passed by a narrow margin last November with support in the state's largest urban areas and opposition from the rest of the state.

Barbara Schmitz, Missouri director for HSUS, said the added inspection and enforcement is a good thing, but she opposes SB 113 for rolling back "clear and basic standards" that could prevent dogs from being abused.

Many lawmakers had opposed Prop B because they considered it vague in requiring "adequate water and food," whereas state and federal law laid out specific language that could be used in court.

Munzlinger said a coalition supported by HSUS filed another initiative petition Tuesday that would require a three-quarters majority of Missouri lawmakers to revise any initiative petitions.

"I don't think the HSUS is done here in the state of Missouri. I don't know if they want to come back after agriculture or hunting. They're against both those things," Munzlinger said.

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