Puppy Mill Bill In Trouble?

Is bill in trouble from puppy-mill area lawmaker?

Dogs crowded into cages were rescued from a Kaufman County puppy mill in April 2009
Dogs crowded into cages were rescued from a Kaufman County puppy mill in April 2009 (by Kathy Milani, Humane Society of the US)

Whether the so-called "puppy mill bill" is appropriate for the House's Local & Consent calendar is, ostensibly, the issue holding up Rep. Senfronia Thompson's House Bill 1451.

But whether that's really the case – or whether opposition to the content of the bill is what has at least one lawmaker uncomfortable – remains to be seen.

This is the second time that a bill to tame currently unlicensed or regulated large-scale breeders has been filed. Last session the measure, which has bipartisan support, languished, in part because of opposition from the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. This time around, however, the TVMA is on board, as are members who previously voted against the measure, like Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, who thanked Thompson on the House floor on April 14, for setting the record straight about what the bill will and won't do, "because there's a lot of misinformation out there," she said.

Indeed, opponents of the bill have taken something of a camel's-nose-under-the-tent view of things, arguing that regulating breeders with an eye on ensuring humane treatment of animals is somehow an attempt to stop breeding operations altogether – or to extend the reach of regulatory government from requiring licensing and regulation (including inspections) of large-scale dog and cat breeders, which Thompson's bill proposes, to state oversight of all manner of animal operations, including that of livestock and even hunting dogs. Neither is the case, Thompson and other supporters have repeatedly reiterated. Instead, the bill seeks to end the cruel practice of large-scale operations where animals are kept in cramped and inhumane quarters – multiple animals packed into cages, often without adequate food, water or medical attention; animals who are kept in a constant breeding cycle and who are never given time to rest between breeding and are rarely – if ever – given time to exercise or play. Those breeders give the entire industry a bad name, and hurt the many breeders that operate in a clean and humane manner, proponents of the bill argue.

The bill, which (as it was the last time around, in 2009) made it out of committee earlier this month without a single "no" vote, and which has no fiscal impact to the state, was posted to the Local & Consent calendar – reserved for bills that have either only local impact, or considered less controversial; because the bill complied with two rules for posting there – that of the favorable committee vote and lack of fiscal implication – it was correctly posted, Thompson has explained. But Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, apparently disagrees: he objected to the placement on the calendar and after raising a point of order, Thompson pulled the bill and sent it back to committee to have the bill analysis rewritten to ensure that it accurately reflects the bill's content, according to her office. That was immediately done and the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee again unanimously voted to send it back to the floor, where it again is slated to be called up on the Local & Consent calendar. When that will happen is still unclear.

But proponents of the bill argue that the state can not afford to put off passage of the bill for another biennium: Unethical and inhumane breeders not only give the industry a bad name, selling abused and often sickly animals (all without paying any taxes on their commercial operations), but also are simply perpetuating cruel abuses. Indeed, in Simpson's own district the Longview News-Journal reported April 5 on the rescue by the Humane Society of Marion County of what would end up being 167 dogs neglected and living in filth on a 25-acre puppy mill. "The interior of the home on the property is litter with trash, urine and feces," the daily reported. "Officials say the owner of the property – a 64-year-old man – lives in Shreveport and only checked on his animals on the weekends." Officials also estimated that the man, who had not been back to the property in more than three weeks at the time of the seizure, had been operating the puppy-mill on the property for some 20 years. This is exactly the kind of operation that Thompson's bill is meant to stop, says Monica Hardy, executive director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, who are major supporters of the measure. "We at the [THLN] are surprised and deeply troubled by...Simpson's...actions on the House floor...in an attempt to derail HB 1451, a bill that would prevent animal cruelty by providing regulation of high-volume dog and cat breeding operations," Hardy wrote in an emailed statement. "This is especially troubling given the recent rescue of 167 starving border collies at a puppy mill in Marion County, the rescue of 500 dogs from a puppy mill in Kaufman County and the huge puppy mill problem that continues unchecked throughout East Texas."

Asked whether Simpson is opposed to the content of the bill, or simply the posting of the bill to the L&C calendar, his office said that the representative "definitely wants to take care of the animals," but wants to make sure the bill is "properly presented."

Hardy hopes that is indeed the case.

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Animal Welfare, Animal Shelter, puppy mills, Senfronia Thompson, Patricia Harless, David Simpson, HB 1451, 82nd Legislature, Texas Humane Legislation Network, THLN, Monica Hardy, TVMA

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