April 20, 2011
ST. LOUIS • Barely a day old, and already Gov. Jay Nixon's compromise on the contentious push to crack down on dog breeders showed signs of fraying Tuesday.
Nixon's administration announced this week a compromise between animal welfare advocates and dog breeders that strengthens current rules but takes out the most contentious portion of an initiative approved by voters in November.
But on Tuesday evening, more than 60 lawmakers from the House and Senate, as well as representatives of the agriculture industry, sent a letter telling Nixon they want him to sign a piece of legislation already on his desk that would roll back the proposition altogether.
Now, instead of avoiding the most acute political quandary of his career, it appears the governor could be squaring up for a fight with the Legislature over so-called "puppy mills."
"The governor's involvement would have been helpful had it been earlier," said state Sen. Robert N. Mayer, R-Dexter.
It's unclear how Nixon will approach this potential setback. The governor issued a response Tuesday saying he was "extremely encouraged that this broad coalition of legislative and industry leaders has endorsed our Missouri solution."
Only what Nixon has previously called his "Missouri solution" was the compromise he announced on Monday - not the bill lawmakers sent to his desk earlier in the month.
The back and forth represents even more tumult in a fight that has pitted rural and urban lawmakers against one another, and thrust national animal welfare groups into the political spotlight in Missouri.
The Humane Society of the United States poured over $2 million into a successful November ballot initiative, Proposition B, that targeted the hundreds of dog breeding facilities in Missouri.
While the law takes a year to go into effect, rural legislators on both sides of the aisle - concerned that the regulations would lead to restrictions on raising farm animals - wasted no time pushing a bill to the governor's desk that would have repealed much of the proposition.
Instead of signing or vetoing the bill, Nixon's agricultural advisers announced a deal Monday that pleased both members of animal welfare groups and dog breeders, hammering out an accord that strengthens current rules, but takes out the ban on keeping more than 50 breeding dogs.
The compromise still must be approved by the Missouri Legislature, a task that grew tougher on Tuesday. Among those signing the letter urging Nixon to approve the bill dismantling Proposition B is House Speaker Steve Tilley, who controls the flow of legislation in the Legislature's lower chamber.
Even so, Nixon's compromise brought together opposing sides of the issue, which could buoy its chances of passing. The agreement was signed by the Missouri Humane Society and the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, as well as other state organizations advocating for both animal rights and the dog breeding industry.
Nixon called the deal "a Missouri solution to this Missouri issue," a thinly veiled jab at the Humane Society of the United States and another national animal protection group, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that supported Proposition B but did not sign onto the compromise pact.
But although neither outfit is based in Missouri, both have demonstrated fundraising might and political savvy. The committee formed to back Prop B collected more than $3.8 million. The group netted endorsements from area celebrities - Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa - and political luminaries - former Republican U.S. Sen. John Danforth.
When rumblings began that state lawmakers would seek to overturn Prop B, the campaign purchased billboard space around Jefferson City. In January, the Humane Society's national president, Wayne Pacelle, signed up as a lobbyist in Missouri.
This afternoon, the group has arranged a rally in Jefferson City seeking to show opposition to the compromise.
"We have a lot of concerns," said Barbara Schmitz, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the U.S. "It falls short of what the voters approved."
In addition to capping the number of breeding dogs, the proposition approved by voters set new standards for exercise, medical care and cage size. Many of those restrictions are relaxed under the compromise. Under current regulations, breeders' cages need to be only 6 inches bigger than the dog on each side. The agreement would require twice that amount of space by Jan. 1, 2012, and three times that amount of space by Jan. 1, 2016.
Constant access to an outdoor run also would be required, though the Department of Agriculture could waive the requirement.
Still, the absence of a cap on the number of dogs allowed - which would mean large-scale breeding operations could remain in business - has left the U.S. Humane Society sticking with the original language that voters approved in November.
The national Humane Society has already taken the early steps for a second ballot measure next year that would make it harder for the Legislature to overturn future referenda. Schmitz would also not rule out legal action.
"All options are on the table," she said.
In addition to exposing the familiar divisions between urban and rural lawmakers, the dog breeding fracas has revealed a less likely split between the national Humane Society and its local branch.
The Humane Society of Missouri - an independent organization - has embraced the compromise, unlike its national counterpart.
"We felt it behooved us since we live in Missouri to see if we can find a compromise," said Robert W. Hull, chairman of the Missouri Humane Society. "When you compromise, you aren't going to get everything you want."
Hull insisted there was no ill will between the national agency and its local counterpart. However, the local Humane Society works closely with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, both for their rescue missions around the state and the Humane Society's shelter on Macklind Avenue in St. Louis.
Not signing the compromise would have tested a sound relationship, Hull said.
"We are subject to their regulations," Hull said. "They license us."
Most of Missouri's statewide officials have attempted to stay out of the dog-breeding fight, but on Tuesday Attorney General Chris Koster signaled his support for the compromise plan.
"If the Legislature chooses to support this solution, the attorney general's office will be ready on day one," Koster said, promising to dedicate a full-time attorney to prosecute violations, as well as establish a hotline to field complaints.
Still, some area dog lovers greeted the news with a measure of ambivalence.
"I don't think there should ever be a compromise in the humane treatment of man's best friend," said Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue of St. Louis. "It bothers me. I think the thing that happened was rural farmers feared they would be next."
But, he added, "it's better than nothing."
Grim also noted that if Nixon was attempting to win over animal advocates, he had a funny way of showing it. A day after the dog breeding compromise was announced, the governor's office released a photo of Nixon turkey hunting in the woods of south-central Missouri.
Nixon felled a 24-pound gobbler, with one-inch spurs and a 10-inch beard.
Dogs get break from Nixon, but turkey not so lucky
April 19, 2011
ST. LOUIS • Gov. Jay Nixon is being lauded this week for helping to broker a "landmark" agreement that both protects puppies and pleases agricultural interests.
The state's turkey population, however, will get no such sanctuary from Missouri's hunter-in-chief.
Nixon, continuing his tradition of donning firearm and fatigues throughout the hunting calendar, marked the opening day of spring turkey season by felling a 24-pound gobbler in south central Missouri.
According to a press release from the governor's office, the full-grown bird was shot, er, "harvested" in the Pulaski County woods Monday morning. The turkey sported "one-inch spurs and a 10-inch beard."
This is not the first time Nixon has hit his target on opening day. In November, Nixon observed the first day of deer season by bringing in an eight-point buck in Clark County.
Monday's turkey was a big one, but it doesn't match the legislative coup he scored later in the day, arranging a "Missouri solution" between farmers and the canine lobby over dog breeding legislation in Jefferson City.
While some animal advocates are not pleased with Nixon, the governor was able to avoid choosing between raising the ire of rural legislators or upending the will of voters who approved the puppy mill law in November -- a position that, either way, may have left Nixon looking like a political turkey.
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