The so-called puppy mill bill that has dog breeders and animal rights groups in Texas squared off in a war of words, HB 1451 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, will be up for a vote on the House floor tomorrow.
It's listed on the Local and Consent Calendar, which is usually reserved for uncontested items. That has dog breeders — already worried that the measure is designed by animal rights activists to put them out of business — scared that a bill they fear could mean their demise is headed down the fast track. And they say Thompson, D-Houston, is abusing her position as chairwoman of the Local and Consent Calendar to get the bill passed without the debate it deserves.
"We don’t like it very much at all," said Dale Martenson, who breeds cavalier spaniels in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "It's certainly a use, if not an abuse, of power."
Thompson's office did not respond to calls requesting comment for this story. Thompson has said that breeders are "over-excited," and that her bill is not intended to drive them out of business. It is designed, she said, to ensure that basic health and safety standards are implemented for people who breed animals, and to weed out abusive breeders who keep their animals in inhumane conditions. A new analysis of the bill prepared after it was sent to the Local and Consent Calendar says, "This bill is not intended to impact hobby breeders and it is not prohibiting or hindering the breeding or selling of dogs and cats."
Bills on the Local and Consent Calendar, according to the House rules, are ones "regardless of extent and scope, on which there is such general agreement as to render improbable any opposition to the consideration and passage thereof." But thus far, the words "general agreement" have not characterized any discussion of the puppy mill bill. More than 20 witnesses testified against the bill when it was heard in committee last month.
Dog breeders say the measure is too strict and that it would implement so many additional fees and expenses it would put them out of business. Under the bill, anyone who has 11 or more unspayed female dogs would be subject to licensing and regulation by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. They would have to pay annual fees and would be required to take each animal to a veterinarian every year. The veterinarian would be required to sign off on a health plan for the animal. Another measure in the bill that breeders oppose would offer rewards to people who report breeders they suspect of rules violations. Martenson said complying with the bill could cost him more than $10,000 a year.
But perhaps most worrisome to breeders is that the bill would put TDLR in charge of licensing and regulations. One of the agency's lawyers who is working to draft the bill and who would work with others at the agency to write the breeding rules is an animal rights enthusiast whose Facebook posts are almost entirely devoted to groups that back the bill. And breeders like Martenson say those groups want to put them out of business. Despite hours of working with Thompson's office to modify the bill, Martenson said few of the breeders' concerns were addressed. "The changes they made were so cosmetic," Martenson said.
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance sent out a blast e-mail on Tuesday, urging sporting dog owners to call their representatives and ask them to oppose the bill. "Tell them the bill treats sporting dog and hobby breeders as large commercial breeders, allows for warrantless searches of homes, and creates unnecessary, costly new regulations," the e-mail said.
The bill's placement on the Local and Consent Calendar doesn't guarantee its success. Bills on that calendar can get booted from the House floor if other legislators contest the measure. Five signatures from representatives who contest the bill can result in the bill getting pulled, and so can more than 10 minutes of debate. If the bill is contested, then it generally gets sent to the regular Calendars Committee, where it could be put on the general House Calendar, making it possible for other legislators to amend the bill and debate it at length. But breeders worry that because of Thompson's clout in the House — she's the longest-serving African American legislator in the Capitol — that no one will challenge the bill.
If we hear back from Thompson's office on this, we'll update here.