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So Much for Will of the People

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Jefferson City Mo. (AP) –  Just four months after Missouri voters approved a new dog-breeding law, the state Senate endorsed legislation Tuesday that would repeal many of its mandates for canine living conditions and remove the possibility that people could be sent to jail for first-time violations.

The Senate gave initial approval to the repeal legislation after some lawmakers warned that the voter approved initiative had the potential to wipe out Missouri’s dog-breeding industry __ which is among the largest nationwide __ by forcing costly renovations to facilities and effectively limiting the number of dogs they can sell. The legislation needs a second Senate vote to move to the House.

Proposition B was approved by about 52 percent of statewide voters last November, with strong support in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas outweighing opposition throughout much of the rest of the state. It is to take effect this coming November, one year after its passage.

Missouri has about 1,400 licensed commercial dog breeders, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. They amount to a $1 billion industry that employs thousands of people and spends millions of dollars annually on dog food, veterinarian services and utilities, said Sen. Mike Parsons, R-Bolivar, who is sponsoring the legislation reversing parts of the voter-approved initiative.  “By allowing this to go forward without changes, we are shutting down an entire industry in this state,” Parsons warned. Senators defeated two attempts by Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, to refer the repeal legislation back to voters __ either this November or in November 2012.

The Senate bill would strike a provision in the voter-approved initiative that limits businesses to owning 50 breeding dogs. It also would roll back various requirements on the dogs’ living conditions. For example, it would replace a mandate that water bowls remain free of debris, feces or algae with a general requirement for water to be provided in a safe container. Parsons had argued that, under the ballot initiative, breeders could be jailed if dog dropped a piece of food in its water bowl.

Also gone would be a voter-approved requirement that indoor dog pens have sufficient space for animals to turn around in a circle and stretch out freely while lying down __ plus at least one foot of distance between their heads and the ceiling and a 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. Instead, the Senate bill would simply require appropriate space, depending on the species, as set forth in regulations by the Department of Agriculture.

Parsons equated the provisions in the voter-approved initiative to a hypothetical mandate that grocery stores triple their size but sell only one-third of the amount products as they previously did. Backers of his bill argued that many voters simply were expressing support for dogs without knowing the intricate details of the ballot proposal.

Justus countered: “I have confidence that the voters knew what they were voting on.” The Senate legislation would delete provisions that make any violations of the voter-approved initiative a misdemeanor punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine, or a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine for repeat offenders.

Instead, the Senate bill would allow the director of the Department of Agriculture to ask the attorney general or a local prosecutor to seek a court order against dog breeders violating the requirements and, potentially, a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation. The Senate bill would allow misdemeanor charges __ with the same penalties as the voter-approved law __ against breeders with repeated violations that pose a substantial risk to the health and welfare of their animals.

Although it’s promoted as a way to spare good dog breeders from unnecessary costs, the Senate legislation would increase the fees that dog breeders must pay to the state. It would allow licensing costs of up to $2,500 instead of $500, and would impose an additional $25 annual fee to finance state efforts to crack down on unlicensed dog breeders.

Dog bill is SB113.

Copyright Associated Press

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