JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon has signed into law new legislation rewriting a voter-approved law on dog-breeding operations.
Nixon signed the measure Wednesday evening. It capped a flurry of activity that started earlier Wednesday when Nixon signed a previously passed bill repealing key sections of the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act" approved by voters last November.
As part of a compromise among state-based agriculture and animal welfare groups, lawmakers quickly agreed to supersede their original bill with additional changes to the dog-breeding law.
Ultimately, it means a voter-approved limit of 50 breeding dogs per business will be repealed, and many of the original dog-care provisions will be replaced. The latest version of the bill also gives existing dog breeders more time to comply with expanded housing requirements.
Nixon signed the bill Wednesday that repeals restrictions put in place in November by a voter-passed dog-breeding measure.
Nixon notified the Senate that he signed the original legislation to undo Proposition B on Wednesday morning after months of heated debate and protests filled the Missouri Capitol. Nixon backed the finalized bill on April 18 after asking for input from several in-state organizations, including the Humane Society of Missouri and state Department of Agriculture.
"Our organizations here are strong, robust, have been great partners with the Department of Agriculture. ... " Nixon said. "The bottom line is we don't have to look to other places to get leadership on this issue. We have strength inside the organizations that are involved here. I don't need somebody jetting in to tell us what to do when we can do it ourselves."
Barbara Schmitz, Missouri state director of the Humane Society of the United States, which financed and spearheaded the campaign for voter approval, said she disapproves of the new legislation. She said the law puts the welfare of dogs in jeopardy.
"Senate Bill 113 took away all those core provisions and protections for the dogs and leaves us pretty much back where we were before ... " Schmitz said. "We think that is is really a slap in the face of voters."
Schmitz said the U.S. Humane Society is looking into different legal options and will continue their fight to uphold Proposition B as passed by voters.
"We are committed to seeing it protected," Schmitz said. "We are really, really disappointed in the political process that has failed us thus far."
The new law alters many of the major provisions put on dog breeders that were mandated and approved by 51.6 percent of voters last November. The sponsor of one of the bills, Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, said he is glad his bill has finally become law.
"That was something that we had worked on for a long time and worked very hard at," Parson said. "We were grateful to see him sign that."
Nixon held a news conference on Wednesday night to sign his own bill, which followed a full day of his office refusing to comment or even acknowledge his action on the first bill.
The compromise written by Nixon's administration was effective immediately upon the governor's signature.
Other changes to other voter-approved provisions including:
- the requirement for outdoor exercise.
- the mandate on how often a dog can be bred.
- specific square footage requirements for cages.
Instead, the law requires breeders to use regulations to be set by the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
The law also:
- allows for civil penalties and misdemeanor charges for repeat offenses.
- applies a $25 annual fee to support law enforcement efforts.
- allows licensing costs of up to $2,500 instead of $500.
State Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, said she disagrees with the changes.
"The voter's voice is why we go to the polls and to turn that over at anytime, to me, is a reckless thing to do," said Wright-Jones, whose district approved Proposition B by 76 percent.
Nixon, however, said he credits Missouri voters with prompting the debate on dog-breeding conditions.
"But for the people of the state voting on this, we wouldn't be here today," Nixon said. "Their votes did matter, their votes fundamentally changed a discussion that was going on in the state and played a vital role in getting this to the finish line."
State Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, said she is conflicted on whether the democratic process prevailed.
"I stuck with my voters who did not want to see Proposition B overturned," McNeil said. "They went to the polls, they voted, they won and they shouldn't have to take less than what they got. ... The winner shouldn't have to compromise."