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March 09, 2011

Democracy Neutered

There is an attack on democracy occurring now in the Missouri General Assembly, and I hope you are as outraged as I am about it. Just four months ago, voters approved Prop B to create stronger standards for the care of dogs on large-scale commercial dog breeding operations—in the state that produces 30 percent of all dogs for the national pet trade. The puppy mill industry fought hard against Prop B, and without question, it was the hottest and most discussed of all of the statewide ballot measures. Both sides had their say, and the people of Missouri made an informed decision in favor of Prop B.

Now, even before Prop B has gone into effect, the Missouri Senate voted last night to repeal the measure. The debate on the Senate floor was a sham, with its backers misrepresenting the issue and the lawmakers from districts favoring Prop B barely raising an audible objection. Only Senator Jolie Justus of Kansas City objected in a meaningful way, offering an amendment to say that the issue should be voted on again by the people rather than gutted in the legislature. Her amendment to refer the issue to the November 2011 ballot was defeated.

Missouri puppy mill
The HSUS
Dogs at a Missouri puppy mill in 2010.

The lawmakers backing repeal of Prop B cast it as a fix or a tweak. It is not. It is a wholesale gutting of Prop B. The bill, SB 113, hollows out Prop B and leaves nothing but a shell.

The Senate is expected to conduct a final vote on the issue tomorrow. The backers of this repeal effort are also trying to include an “emergency clause” in the measure to prevent citizens from launching a referendum to nullify the override attempt by lawmakers. So just to be clear, these lawmakers are working not only to repeal a citizen initiative, but also to prevent Missouri citizens from having a second crack at the issue. (Incidentally, there’s an entirely separate effort, HJR 17, to block any future initiative dealing with animal welfare issues.) 

Taken as a whole, it’s an incredible assault on voters and animal protection. We will continue to ask our Missouri supporters—and anyone who cares about democratic decision-making—to urge lawmakers not to undo the will of the people and to protect voting rights. 

The best chance for the dogs probably now rests with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who has spoken many times in support of honoring the will of the people on a range of issues and who has led the effort for stepped-up enforcement under the pre-existing, minimal dog care standards.  The state’s Operation Bark Alert has helped to shut down a fair number of unlicensed kennels that were causing great harm to dogs, and that’s to the governor’s credit. He’s been an advocate of dog welfare, and unfortunately, it may now be up to him to block this arrogant attempt by a small number of politicians to substitute their judgment for that of one million Missouri citizens who voted for Prop B.

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