In the months following the November elections, potential legislative plans to modify or repeal the "puppy mill initiative," or Proposition B, have triggered a wide range of editorial comment and letters to editors statewide. The gist of this opinion deluge demands the legislature respect the will of the people, who voted in favor of the proposition 51.6 to 48.4 percent — 997,870 to 936,190.
The frustration of supporters of a ballot initiative is understood. When their hard-fought victory for a deeply held belief is threatened, the vote count should identify the winner. Nevertheless, one must wonder why there has not been a similar outcry over denial of the will of the people in their August rejection of the health care mandate by a ratio of nearly 3- to-1.
If the "will of the people" in voter-organized petition initiatives is to be sacrosanct, it would appear that those who protest desecration of Proposition B should also voice a demand that Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster join 28 other states in the lawsuit against "Obamacare." Health care for humans is surely not less vital than that for dogs.
On a practical note, citizen petitions to place ballot initiatives before the public are a valuable and legitimate pursuit of issues deemed important by special interests as well as by individual citizens. Of the five measures appearing on the November ballot, three were the result of petitions, one of which was Proposition B. Voters passed all three.
While the will of the people must be respected, we enjoy a representative form of government, one in which a legislature is elected by the very people who delegate the authority for decision making. There are occasions when majority rule must be tempered with honest debate and good judgment, lest the unintended consequences of otherwise good intentions become untenable.
This is the case in the hotly debated puppy mill initiative. The bill, albeit narrowly, did pass and became state law. However, it is seriously flawed. As passed by the voters, Proposition B applies only to licensed breeders, ignoring the unlicensed, fly-by-nighters, who are the primary factors motivating the legislation's supporters. This added regulation on the legitimate breeder increases opportunities for the unlicensed. Thus, the solution has aggravated the problem.
The puppy mill initiative was orchestrated largely by the Humane Society of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based animal rights organization that provided some $2.18 million of the $3.2 million raised by the campaign. A study of campaign financial records revealed that 82 percent of the monetary and in-kind contributions came from outside of Missouri, thus indicating a lack of local spontaneity.
Further, of the 114 counties in Missouri, 103 voted no on Proposition B, as did St. Louis City. Interestingly, of the 997,870 yes votes cast, 525,720 came from St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jackson County and Clay County, all of which are generally urban in nature and hardly bastions of dog breeding or agricultural pursuits.
Obviously, the deluge of out-of-state-funded television ads portraying dogs, cats and other animals in varying degrees of illness, starvation, mistreatment and woeful misery was a major influence on voters — particularly targeting the urbanites. Every normal human is against animal cruelty. The TV-depicted plight of starving, unloved puppies was a well-orchestrated sympathy magnet.
However, there was never any evidence the pictures were filmed in breeding establishments. They could have been shot in alleys, streets or spaces anywhere in the U.S. Consequently, a largely out-of-state orchestrated and funded proposition was able to play on a combination of people's emotion, lack of knowledge and a wealth of misinformation to pass a bill that affects the operations and livelihood of licensed dog breeders but does nothing to regulate, inspect or close down the outlaw puppy farms.
For this and other similar reasons, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association, the American Kennel Club, the Missouri Farm Family Agriculture Alliance, the Missouri Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations opposed Proposition B. The consensus: Rather than improve the well-being of the animals, it would add inordinate expense to the industry. Also, arbitrarily limiting the number of dogs a breeder may possess would do nothing to ease negligence nor mistreatment.
Legislators on both sides of the political aisle realize the law is flawed. Accordingly, the remedy is for the duly elected legislature to do the job we pay them to perform — either through modification or repeal. A bad law, largely funded by out-of-state special interests that substituted emotion for reason to pass it, is not made palatable by the good intentions.
The ball is where it belongs — in the legislature's court. Remember your civics lessons.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.