Nonprofit animal shelters protest licensing fees that regulate dog breeding

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | 2:24 p.m. CST; updated 8:14 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 5, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — An attorney for nonprofit animal shelters sought to persuade the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday to strike down a state licensing fee that he argued was originally enacted through "legislative shenanigans."

Attorney David Cosgrove contends that lawmakers violated the state constitution by including the animal shelter fee in a 2010 bill that originally dealt with dynamite. The revision illegally changed the original purpose of the legislation, he said.

"The Legislature is not to pull the wool over the eyes of the public," said Cosgrove, who represents animal shelters in Osage Beach and St. Louis as well as the Humane Society of the United States.

But some Supreme Court judges seemed skeptical of his argument. They noted that lawmakers repealed and re-enacted the licensing fee for animal shelters during the following year as part of another bill, thus potentially alleviating concerns about the procedure used to pass the 2010 legislation.

The state attorney general's office argued that the Supreme Court should uphold an August decision rejecting the lawsuit because of the subsequent 2011 law.

"This case is completely moot," Assistant Attorney General Jessica Blome said.

Cosgrove said the 2011 law was merely a continuation of the 2010 law, and thus the licensing fee should be struck down because of the way the original law was passed.

The dispute over the animal shelter fees is an offshoot of a tussle about how to regulate dog breeders in Missouri.

Shelters had been exempt from the licensing fees charged by the Missouri Department of Agriculture until the 2010 legislation which was passed months before voters approved a ballot initiative imposing tougher regulations on the dog-breeding industry. The Legislature reacted in 2011 by repealing key parts of the voter-approved initiative and enacting its own new regulations.

Among other things, the 2011 legislation raised the maximum licensing fee from $500 to $2,500 for commercial breeders, kennels and animal shelters.

Animal advocacy groups have argued that nonprofit shelters should not have to pay the fees because they help communities and sometimes care for animals seized from poorly run breeding facilities. Some have compared the fees to levying a hotel tax on shelters for homeless people.

Opponents of exempting shelters from the fees have argued that all facilities should help fund Missouri's animal regulation efforts.

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