Some state lawmakers on warpath against animals

State legislatures are in full swing around the country as lawmakers begin the new year with big agendas: closing multi-billion budget deficits, creating jobs, improving education. But some lawmakers have animals in their sights.

After a two-year run of legislative victories for animal lovers in a number of states - particularly with the passage of new laws cracking down on puppy mills - some animal unfriendly lawmakers are using their power to go after animals and their caretakers. 

Let's take a look (Courtesy of Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States):

Nebraska LB 306

Sponsored by freshman Sen. Tyson Larson, this bill requires humane societies and horse rescues to accept and care for any horse that is presented to them, and would make it a crime, a class IV misdemeanor, if the group doesn’t have enough space or money to take in an animal dumped on their doorsteps. Sen. Larson’s unbelievable bill turns moral responsibility on its head, allowing reckless animal owners to casually dispense with animals they’ve acquired without proper forethought and shifting the care and cost burdens onto struggling local organizations, who are already up to their ears cleaning up the messes of other irresponsible animal owners. For the government to require these local organizations to care for every animal presented to them, and to create a crime if they are unable to take them in, that’s akin to requiring the Sierra Club to cover the costs of every environmental polluter and to require nothing of the very polluters who create the problem in the first place.

Utah HB 210

This session, the Utah legislature will consider a bill to allow people to shoot any animal they believe to be feral — essentially green-lighting the shooting of feral dogs and cats, and giving people a pass if they shoot someone else’s pet. It’s the Wild West, and there are no rules when it comes to the care of animals, if this lawmaker gets his way. This crazy idea comes at a time when there are more effective efforts than ever to address the management of feral dogs and cats by humane means, such as trap-neuter-return.

Montana LC 1839

And in Montana, legislation is being drafted with the goal of “nullifying and voiding the Federal Endangered Species Act.” Imagine if states had the authority to willy-nilly void any federal law they don’t want to follow! Don’t like the federal Endangered Species Act? Just nix it. How about the federal Controlled Substances Act? Nullify it. Civil rights, labor laws, environmental protection laws? Brushed aside as some sort of outrageous federal intervention. Forget about the tripartite system of lawmaking, with power vested in local, state and federal governments. In this aberrant construction of government, the states are supreme and they don’t need any stinking ideas from local or federal lawmakers.

Perhaps no action is more stunning than what is transpiring in Missouri, puppy mill capital of the U.S. right now. Animal welfare advocates there turned to a ballot referendum last year after it became clear the agribusiness-dominated legislature, despite mountains of evidence of abuses and lax enforcement of ineffective existing laws, would never consider any bill to toughen laws on puppy mills. In November the referendum was approved by a majority of Missouri voters. This week, Missouri House Agriculture Policy committee is taking up no fewer than six bills to repeal, or at minimum, gut the new law, known as the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. The measure - tougher then the Pennsylvania law - would increase requirements for the housing of breeding dogs, access to the outdoors and rest between breeding cycles. It also limits operations to no more than 50 breeding dogs. More here.

 (Photo:Kathy Milani/HSUS)

Things are not looking good on the federal front at the moment either. The Bureau of Land Management (the agency responsible for overseeing the wild horse population) has rejected an offer by Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire financier T. Boone Pickens, to create an eco-sanctuary for America's wild mustangs. The BLM announcement came only weeks after Director Bob Abbey said the agency would pursue public and private partnerships.

U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R., IN) expressed his outrage on the House floor this week:

“This is another bureaucratic nightmare that we in this Congress should not—and I don't believe will—put up with. And I'm going to ask the Appropriations Committee to cut the budget of the Bureau of Land Management because they're wasting the taxpayers' money by millions and millions and maybe hundreds of millions of dollars … We ought to cut the Bureau of Land Management's budget so that we can save the money and save the mustangs. That's what this is all about—a humane way of treating the mustangs in this country, which are a part of our heritage.”

In 2008, Pickens first offered to help create life-time sanctuaries for thousands of wild horses and burros currently housed in the BLM’s holding facilities. At the time, the BLM had announced that it would euthanize and sell for slaughter thousands of wild horses. Since then, the BLM and Pickens’ foundation, Saving America’s Mustangs, have been working together in an attempt to develop a partnership that would provide homes for wild horses and educate the public about the need to preserve and protect these icons of the American West, while at the same time saving taxpayer dollars. The BLM says the proposal would not save money and would require legislation to engage in such a public-private partnership.

The Humane Society of the United States says the agency has not taken action on a horse contraceptive program that HSUS had developed for them. What we do know, is that the federal government continues to round up wild mustangs, saying the 38,000 or so remaining threaten grazing lands, using helicoptors that cause injuries and deaths. The horses that survive are left to languish in holding corrals. The agency scheduled 26 round ups (they are called "gathers" on the website) in fiscal 2011. A round up that was to remove 800 horses was just finished in Ely, NV.

To end on a bright note, a bill taken up by the Massachusetts legislature would ban some of the most cruel and inhumane confinement of farm animals.

The bill, named the Massachusetts Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, would require that farm animals have enough room to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs—a basic standard of care often absent on many industrial factory farms. The law would prevent three of the worst factory farm abuses: veal crates for calves, battery cages for egg-laying hens and gestation crates for breeding pigs.

Seven states, California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan and Oregon—have passed laws to phase out one or more of these factory farm abuses.