The Missouri House Agriculture Policy Committee this morning held a hearing on two bills, HJR 86 and HB 1825, both of which would create an individual right for Missouri citizens to be free from any state law or regulation that imposes an “undue economic burden” on any type of animal husbandry. The legislation appears to be an overreaching response to the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act now circulating for the November statewide ballot.
Critics of this ballot initiative, particularly agriculture groups, have wildly exaggerated its contents. The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act would give dogs basic humane standards of care, such as food, water, veterinary care, exercise and shelter. It has no impact on show dogs, hunting dogs, or small breeders who have 10 or fewer breeding females. The fact is, there are cruel and inhumane puppy mill operations in Missouri. Dogs are confined in small cages for years on end with no exercise or human attention, and they are typically forced to live in small wire cages, exposed to extremes of heat and cold. All dogs deserve humane treatment. It’s absurd to think that these policies would have any impact on livestock issues or any other type of animal use.
But the opponents cannot defend puppy mills on their merits, so instead they trot out tarradiddles about ending all livestock farming or hunting. In fact, they made the same arguments in 1998 during the debate over the ballot initiative to ban cockfighting in Missouri, and 12 years later, there has been no attempt to impact livestock agriculture or sport hunting in the state through the legislature or through the initiative process. Their claims dating back 12 years proved false, and the invoking of these same scare tactics are equally false today.
HJR 86 and HB 1825 are needlessly broad, and simply go too far in protecting unacceptable forms of animal mistreatment. If enacted, they could not only give immunity to inhumane puppy mills, but also provide legal protections to gamefowl and pit bull breeding operations established to sell fighting animals in commerce and exotic animal dealers churning out tigers or primates for the pet trade.
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States have policies against inhumane treatment of animals for good reason: We value animal welfare. We do not look only at economic considerations in considering animal production practices, but we factor in the basic values of the people, and balance the interests. In the same way, worker safety regulations, zoning measures, community planning restrictions, and environmental laws reflect a balancing act between economics and human health and welfare. Values matter, and we are not a society that discards all other considerations in pursuit of the quickest profit.
Because the measures contain no definition of what economic burdens are “undue,” the measures will take power away from the citizens and the legislature, and instead vest the courts with unfettered discretion to sit as a super-legislature, and declare any law or regulation an “undue” burden on economic activity. Without any legal standard to apply, court decisions striking down state and local health and safety regulations will be virtually unreviewable.
Moreover, by creating an individual constitutional right enforceable in court, enactment of HJR 86 would be certain to trigger a massive, expensive, and crippling onslaught of lawsuits against state and local governments, and would likely paralyze or dismantle the entire state public health and safety framework as it applies to factory farming and other forms of animal use now subject to some limited regulation.
Citizens who work in agriculture and other animal-based industries could expect to have worker safety measures, wage hour laws, and other employee protections challenged in court by animal industry owners, and likely thrown out as an “undue economic burden.” Citizens living next to factory farms, or with factory farms looking to move into their communities, would have to watch helplessly as local zoning, public safety, and environmental restrictions are stripped away by courts applying this vague and ill-advised constitutional measure.
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In short, virtually all decision-making about balancing animal-based economic activity in Missouri against the adverse public health, safety, environmental, and moral costs will be taken away and vested with the courts. Enactment of these measures could have broad and devastating consequences on the legislature’s ability to regulate any type of business involving animals.
If you live in Missouri, tell your state legislators that HJR 86 and HB 1825 are bad for Missouri, and should be rejected. And visit missourifordogs.com to find out how you can get involved and support the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.