Legislators seek to overturn “Puppy Mill” law

By Stacy Martin

Published 08-Feb-2011

A storm is building at the state Capitol, and its one that is not centered around the winter weather, a blizzard expected to blanket the state with a new snowfall by Wednesday morning (February 9).

The “storm” referenced here is the effort to kill the so-called “Puppy Mill” act signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry in May 2010.

The law established an oversight board charged with proposing its initial guidelines. After six months of collaborating with the domestic pet breeder industry, some proposed rules have been established. The Legislature is scheduled to approve or disapprove the guidelines this month.

Scores of Oklahoma domestic pet breeders have provided input in developing the rules, said Angel Soriano, chair of the Domestic Pet Breeders Board, charged with overseeing the act. But one bill has already been advanced that would strike the new law.

That measure is authored by Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Coalgate Republican. Brecheen’s proposal, Senate Bill 15, would prohibit inspections, and replace that function with a requirement that pets receive a $20 per pet health certificate, $1 of which would go to the state as a tax.

The tax would be limited to $250 per breeder.

Brecheen said the $20 health certificate should suffice because it would provide a vet’s visual inspection of an animal. Brecheen said he is unsure what other components the health certificate would have.

Brecheen’s measure is one of four bills that have been introduced to overturn, weaken or make exceptions to the law, said Cynthia Armstrong, Oklahoma State Director for the Human Society of the United States.

The four bills are:

* SB15 by Sen. Brecheen – This bill seeks to repeal the Commercial Pet Breeders Act in its entirety

* SB128 by Sen. Mike Schultz, an Altus Republican – This bill broadly defines hunting, working and sporting dogs and then exempts them from the regulations of the Commercial Pet Breeders Act

*SB637, by Sen. Charles Wyrick, a Fairland Democrat  – This bill seeks to disapprove the rules of the Commercial Pet Breeders Board.

* SB773 by Sen.Eddie Fields, a Wynona Republican – requires rule approval by Dept. of Agriculture, gives fee exemption for federally licensed breeders, requires annual review of standards of care.

Two of the four bills had been assigned to the Senate Agriculture Committee – SB15 and SB128, while disposition of the other two was unknown as this story was prepared, Armstrong said.

Domestic Pet Breeders Board chair Angel Soriano said he is spending most of this month visiting with lawmakers to dispel what he called misconceptions about the law from last year, S.B. 1712.

The biggest misconception is that it is taxpayer-funded. As Soriano points out, the law is “self-funded,” with registration, inspection and fine payments from breeders.

Currently, the state has no mechanism to ensure domestic pet breeders pay sales tax on pet transactions.

It is estimated there are upwards of 1,000 domestic breeders. It is not known how many are responsible and how many are negligent, Soriano said.

“Certainly the bills and the rules are written to go after those people that are simply violating animal rights,” he said.

Soriano said he met and worked with many responsible breeders who were very helpful and proactive. Many breeders were ready to register months ago, but registration fees cannot be accepted until legislators approve the rules.

Generally, the law in its current form will require breeders to pay for registration, inspections and fines for misconduct; provide identification of workers, furnish workers compensation insurance and treat their animal humanely. Also, those with felonies and those convicted of animal cruelty cannot be in the industry. Currently, animal cruelty is a misdemeanor.

In recent years, Oklahoma has ranked as second worst in the nation for proliferation of “puppy mill.” Missouri has ranked worst, according to Armstrong.

Sen. Breechen said his goal is to replace the bill with one he believes is better. He said believes it is a violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights to send an inspector to a breeder’s business.

He also believes individuals’ rights would be violated under the current law.

“I’m not a Constitutional scholar, but I believe the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is being breeched, said Brecheen.

The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures when the searched party has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Brecheen plans to introduce a replacement bill that he thinks is better. It would only require breeders to obtain a $20 health certificate. He said he does not know what the health certificate proves, but he believes a vet’s visual inspection is sufficient.

He intends for $1 of every certificate to go to the state of Oklahoma as a tax, with a cap of $250 breeders. “I personally feel like the industry I’m involved in, which is the equine industry, would be next,” Brecheen said.

Brecheen said he is concerned that similar laws would be passed that would affect other animal industries such as the equine industry, which is his business. He said he believes no one has the right to come to his ranch and inspect his “property,” the legal reference to animals used in industry.

“I’m tremendously concerned that some state employee is going to come onto my property and tell me I’m not doing a good job. If I’m not humane to my animals, the market dictates that I won’t be able to stay in this business.”

The full details of the proposed guidelines can be found on the Domestic Pet Breeders Board web site, www.ok.gov/petbreeders.

Editor’s Note: Martin is editor of The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper, and a contributor to CapitolBeatOK.