JEFFERSON CITY — Local ordinances that ban specific dog breeds inspired members of the Missouri House to speak out against discrimination.
The House gave initial approval to House Bill 2241, sponsored by Rep. David Gregory, R-St. Louis, which would prevent local jurisdictions from outlawing or regulating dogs based on their breed.
Nearly 50 municipalities have such laws, according to a news release from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Several representatives argued Wednesday that owners have the greatest influence on dog behavior and said judging dogs by their breed, rather than as individuals, was unfair and discriminatory. Some even compared it to prejudice directed at groups of people.
Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, said he knew what it felt like for people to be unjustly afraid of him. Price is black.
Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, read a poem about historical anti-Irish discrimination, which he said was due to “mislabeling” and “the ignorance associated with their group,” factors that have affected discrimination against pit bulls.
In support of the bill, representatives told stories of their own positive experiences with pit bulls, German shepherds and other types of dogs that are sometimes targeted by breed-specific laws.
Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, said his family once rescued a pitbull mix abandoned at a construction site. Though the dog was sometimes skittish it was “very loveable” and never aggressive, Basye said. “That dog ended up being the best dog I ever had.”
The bill would not prevent local areas from imposing dog regulations that are not breed-specific, such as consequences for dogs or owners when the dog actually displays violent behavior, Gregory clarified.
Schroer addressed potential concerns that the bill reduces local control.
“We are stripping away and usurping the local control” with the bill, he admitted, but he said the Bill of Rights grants states, not local areas, the rights not reserved to the federal government. “Please do not use that (local control) argument ever again if you vote ‘yes’ on this,” he said.
Responding to representatives who raised concerns that insurance companies also discriminate against specific dog breeds, Gregory said the bill would have no impact on that issue.