Liberty is Safe Again in Missouri
New York Assemblyman Gideon J. Tucker—the author of a mid-19th century animal cruelty law—wrote as a judge in 1866: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
He probably would have been relieved Friday evening when Missouri lawmakers finally left the state capitol for the year, after failing to pass a number of measures designed to prop up the puppy mill industry and take away the right of Missouri citizens to vote on animal cruelty issues.
Missouri is the nation’s top puppy mill state, with at least 3,000 large-scale dog breeding operations producing about 40 percent of U.S. puppies for commercial sale. Missourians for the Protection of Dogs—a coalition led by the Humane Society of Missouri, Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, ASPCA, and HSUS—has submitted more than 190,000 signatures of Missouri voters to place a measure on the November ballot that would turn around the state’s reputation as the puppy mill capital of America, and provide basic humane standards for dogs such as clean food and water, adequate space, exercise, and veterinary care.
But some Missouri lawmakers are so beholden to the puppy mill industry that they introduced a flurry of legislation to undermine the ballot measure and stop citizens from voting on it. A constitutional amendment and several statutory bills attempted to ensure that any laws dealing with animal issues would need to be passed by the legislature, not by voters, and a maneuver toward the end of the session would have required a two-thirds supermajority to pass an animal protection ballot initiative, rather than the simple majority required for all other policy issues.
Opinion leaders across the state panned the attempted power grab. An editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, “The same lawmakers who boast so eloquently about their fealty to the will of the people are poised to strip a piece of it from the state constitution,” while another in the Kansas City Star opined, “It’s hard to know what part of this proposal…is more objectionable: The sanctioning of cruelty to small animals or the thumb in the eye of the public.” Kansas City Star columnist Barb Shelly commented on Jefferson City’s paranoia and rhetoric: “If a list was to be made of the Missouri legislature’s many quirks, its suspicion of animal protection measures must rank high on the list.”
Fortunately, the full-court press to protect puppy mills failed after a late-night filibuster, and the session adjourned. The voting rights of Missouri citizens are still intact, and the legislature can do no more damage to liberty—at least not this year. It clears the way for the Secretary of State to certify the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act for the statewide ballot, and for Missouri voters to protect dogs by voting “Yes” to crack down on abusive puppy mills this November.