Dissecting Michael Parson's SB 113

How do you define "irony"?

From "Puppy mill bill" dissected in forum at Bolivar High School:

"When special interest groups start writing the law, this is what you get."

Introduced by Parson, Forrest Lucas told the group, “I didn’t get into this because I’m a cattleman. I got into it because I’m an American.” He reflected on a longstanding disdain for the HSUS. “They’re not a large group — they want you to think they are — but they’re a serious group. I’ve followed them for years…. I really feel good that we’ve had a chance to bloody their noses.”

Lucas also challenged the crowd to hold legislators accountable, and to support them. “Let legislators know where we stand. We put those guys in office, we can take ‘em out; Judge ‘em. If they’ve done a good job, stand up for them… dig in your pockets to support them.”

Reiterating his opposition to the HSUS, Lucas said, “I want to take ‘em out nationwide, worldwide. I’m looking at this on a worldwide scale.”

State Sen. Mayer, a cattleman from southeast Missouri and new president of the Senate, said, “This will be a priority of mine,” and lauded Parson for his detailed presentation. “I pledge we will take up your bill.”

Following their prepared comments, political leaders visited informally with guests over refreshments. The event was hosted by Polk and Dallas County Cattlemen Associations, Polk and Dallas County Farm Bureau and other organizations.

"When special interest groups start writing the law, this is what you get."

Yesterday, I recorded most of the presentation of SB 113 by Senator Michael Parson, as well as the "debate", to use the word loosely, that followed. It was frustrating listening to Senator Parson speak, because I knew that most of what he was saying could be easily countered...but no one seemed to be speaking out. Senator Jolie Justus did bring up an amendment to send any new bill back to the voters, but it was shot down, quickly. The SB 113 people know the voters would reject the new bill—we aren't going to get a chance to express our views.

However, this was just the first vote on the bill—the vote to "perfect" or finalize the bill. Hopefully when the final vote comes up, we'll hear from more people.

In the meantime, I decided to write out my own counter to Senator Parson's comments, though I realize this is most likely too late to do anything. At a minimum, the information is recorded, and available for future searches when more bad but licensed breeders are exposed—and they will be exposed.

First, you need to have access to the Proposition B text, and then the perfected SB 113 (PDF), side by side, in order to follow along. In the perfected bill, bold text is additional text, and text within square brackets ([]) is text that's been removed.

No kennel can meet Prop B requirements

Senator Parson, stating he was quoting the Department of Agriculture, said not one of the existing breeders can meet new Proposition B requirements. Not even the Blue Ribbon kennels. However, there is nothing online about this—nothing to see the context in which the Department made this statement.

I know for a fact, though, that the owner of one Blue Ribbon kennel, Santo Hill, stated before the election that he would need only minor adjustments in order to meet the Proposition B requirements. The owner's only concern at that time was about the required temperatures and puppies needing higher than 85 degrees. However, the Proposition B requirements are for adult dogs, only. There's nothing in Prop B against breeders using heat lamps, heating pads, or even puppy incubators.

Frankly, we don't know how much kennels will have to change, because most kennels in the state operate in secrecy—doing their best to prevent outside view and comment. When you do ask the kennels owners what they'll need to meet Prop B requirements, you'll hear exaggerated claims all out of proportion to what the bill requires. For instance, you'll hear of needing 11,000 square feet buildings for dogs with puppies, yet Proposition B space requirements are only for adult dogs—no additional space is required for the puppies.

As for whatever statement the Department of Agriculture has made, the information is not available to the public, nor is the context in which the information is provided. We have no idea if the Department made the statement because some minor adjustments are needed at so many kennels, while more major adjustments are needed at others. We're supposed to take all of this, on faith.

I don't believe that we should allow businesses to determine what they will, or will not, follow when it comes to new regulation. What we have to do is look at the requirements, themselves. Are they reasonable? In my opinion, in the opinion of most people in this state who care about dogs, who know dogs, they are reasonable. In fact, the requirements are the minimum we should provide the dogs. When we voted, we voted for these requirements, and the majority of Missourians found these requirements to be reasonable.

If the majority of breeders in Missouri can't meet basic, reasonable requirements, than we need Proposition B all the more.

Proposition B isn't about unlicensed breeders--who are the real problem

Senator Parson states that Proposition B does nothing about unlicensed breeders, yet he's never been able to show us the text in the bill that states it is about licensed breeders, only. The standard of living in Prop B applies to all breeders, regardless of license.

There is, however, an existing law that applies specifically to unlicensed breeders, and Proposition B does not change this law: it is illegal to be a commercial dog breeder in Missouri without a license.

Senator Parson also states that the only problem breeders in the state are unlicensed breeders, and this is inherently, and profoundly, inaccurate. As the recent HSUS/ASCPA report on the Dirty Dozen plus Six demonstrates all too well, Missouri has an inordinate number of really bad, but still licensed breeders.

From my own reading of USDA inspection reports, I found that half the breeders had violations, and a good quarter had repeat violations, some extremely profound. Dead dogs in kennels, dogs that are severely hurt and injured without medical care, dogs that are without fresh water for hours, dogs shivering in freezing weather with no bedding in their outdoor kennels, dogs suffering from heat stroke when the temperatures inside the kennels exceed 109 degrees.

These are all from currently licensed breeders in the state of Missouri. They are still licensed because the laws are too lax, with too many loopholes. The laws favor the breeders over the dogs, and it takes several repeating and extreme violations before the USDA will pull a license. As we're finding out, it takes even more before the Department of Agriculture will move against the breeder.

The problem with both departments is that they're told to focus on positive reinforcement, rather than penalizing the breeder; to focus more on the breeder, than the dogs.

Proposition B adds perspective: it reminds the inspectors that they have a fundamental responsibility to ensure the health of the dogs.

What is a solid level surface

Senator Parson has a problem with definitions. He doesn't like the term "puppy mill", though it's a common term. Senator Parson also demands to know what is the definition of a solid, level surface. It's hard to know when Senator Parson wants a definition or not because he had so many problems with the definition of "pet" that was in Proposition B.

But perhaps the civil engineers in Jefferson City can show the good senator what a "solid" "level" surface is. Or we could all chip in, and get him a dictionary.

Failing all that, we could just stomp on the ground at the capital, see if he gets the point.

Oh, and the crack about rural and urban people having a different understanding of solid, level surfaces? It's true, we in the cities don't assume that all solid, level surfaces are floors inside a double-wide.

Climate Control

Senator Parson mentioned that a problem with Proposition B is that climate control was under criminal statutes. He mentioned about the power going out after a storm and people being charged with a crime because of no air conditioning in the kennels.

What he neglected to mention, and unfortunately nobody in the senate remarked, is the following sentence in Proposition B:

6. A person is guilty of the crime of puppy mill cruelty when he or she knowingly violates any provision of this section.

A piece of dog food in the water bowl is not a violation that a breeder knowingly makes. However, leaving a water bowl out in below freezing temperatures, so that dogs are having to lick frozen water, is a knowing violation.

No air conditioning because of the power going out after a storm isn't a violation a breeder knowingly makes— leaving dogs in a kennel that is 109 degrees with no open windows for a breeze, is.

This sentence is all you need to separate the accidental violation from the deliberate violation. Senator Parson prides himself on his legal background—he should know this.

Show me the money

One new change with SB 113 is raising the ceiling on the license fees for breeders. No one disagrees with this. However, what Senator Parson didn't mention during the debate is that the ceiling will also be raised on shelters and rescue operations in the state—the only groups exempted are municipal pounds and shelters. This means that groups like HSMO or the St. Charles Shelter will have to pay more, so will Stray Rescue, Wayside Waifs, and any other shelter that deals with a large number of dogs needing homes.

The problem with this provision is that these organizations all run on donations. They don't profit from breeding and selling puppies. If anything, when they get the rejects and rescues from the puppy mills, it costs the organizations a considerable amount of money to save the dogs. This is money that doesn't come from the state or any municipality. This is all from donations.

Attaching this higher fee is a slam at the shelters, most likely because they dared to support Proposition B. It was a vindictive action, and unworthy of the Missouri State Senate.

There's another aspect to the higher fee ceiling. Included in the criticism of Proposition B before the election was that it didn't have adequate funding for inspectors incorporated into its language. However, if you look at the fiscal note for Proposition B, you'll find an important annotation from the Department of Agriculture:

The Animal Care Program does not have the financial resources it needs to meet the
current program requirements. The additional requirements of this initiative petition
would significantly increase program responsibilities and could not be accomplished
without a commensurate significant increase in program funding.

I can believe that there aren't enough inspectors. But then, there hasn't been enough inspectors since 2003. So, it was hard for me to understand this one because Proposition B does nothing more than add precision to existing standards— it doesn't add to the number of inspections. We would assume that the same inspectors will still need to inspect, regardless of B's implementation or not. Since Proposition B specifically lowers the number of adult dogs a breeder can own, we also can assume that it would take less time to inspect a breeder with, say, 45 dogs, than one with 569 dogs.

This is actually born out in the fiscal note for SB 113. In it, we find the Department of Agriculture asking for more inspectors, and that the increased license fees would not fully fund all the inspectors needed. What was the response from the Senate oversight on this request?

Oversight assumes since the Department of Agriculture (AGR) already inspects all licensed dog related facilities, therefore they would not need three additional Animal Health Officers. If AGR experiences a measurable increase in its workload as a direct result of this proposal then it can request additional FTE in future budget requests.

It's all smoke and mirrors.

The Criminal Codes

One of the oddest things Senator Parson incorporated into his defense of SB 113, was some kind of fooflah about the criminal code, and decriminalizing Proposition B. The only problem is, he didn't. The bill still has criminal penalties associated with failure of not meeting the bill's requirements. The only problem is, he removed all of Proposition B requirements.

Before, if you willfully violated the Proposition B requirements, you could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Now, the criminal action he's architected is so convoluted, so hopelessly confusing, it will never be enforced. He pretends to have made things better, but what he's done is remove any enforcement provisions—but he's done so deceptively. He makes a pretense of modification wherever he has utterly decimated, the original text of the bill.

Now, it requires the Director to intervene if a breeder consistently violates the provisions—whatever tattered provisions Senator Parson deemed to still remain, that is. During the debate he said anyone could request that a county prosecutor file an injunction, but the text of the bill states explicitly, it has to be the Director.

And what county prosecutor is going to move quickly to intercede? When people seriously violate the loose requirements of ACFA, the dogs are at death's door—they need immediate help. Where before, even without Proposition B, the dogs could get help, Senator Parson has removed even that little buffer.

He has, in effect, made it virtually impossible to close down the worst of breeders.

About those remaining Proposition B requirements

One of the Senators, I believe it was Senator Cunningham, asked Senator Parson, which part of Proposition B still remains. He kept trying to say that his bill was just a modification. She persisted—which part of Proposition B was not modified. He finally stated he couldn't answer.

He couldn't answer, because SB 113 is a repeal of Proposition B, in all but name.

update Before the Vote