The legislative session has drawn to a close. We tackled some tough issues this year and many good bills have already been and will be signed into law.
Last week, I was so pleased when the Governor signed House Bill 2921 into law. This bill repeals the sections of law that previously established the Commercial Pet Breeders Act and instead establishes a more common sense approach. I authored the measure in the Senate working with House author Rep. Phil Richardson of Minco.
The commercial pet breeding industry has been a highly controversial issue at the Capitol the last several years. As I have written about in the past, I felt the excessive small animal regulations left the door open for animal rights activists to seek large animal industry regulations. For this reason, I engaged on this issue as those of us in the agricultural community know that PETA and the Humane Society seek to exploit and undermine large animal production. An unchallenged win for those in state government that embraced the views of the Humane Society/ PETA on the small animal front would have left the large animal agricultural community vulnerable in the future. For these reasons, the signing of this bill represents a very big win for the commercial pet breeders as well as for the Oklahoma agricultural community as a whole.
Prior to my time in the legislature, lawmakers established a means to regulate commercial pet breeders in the state. However, this ill-conceived creation was headed by influential Humane Society activists and it soon led to over-burdensome regulations and harmed those businesses that were already taking care of their animals in the most humane of ways.
This bill alters the oversight of the commercial pet breeders in our state by abolishing the Commercial Pet Breeders Board and transfers such regulatory responsibilities to the Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture. This singular change is one of the most critical found within the bill as under our state constitution, members of the State Board of Agriculture must have at least ten years of farming/ranching experience. This will ensure any future standards of care or regulations are wielded with a context of agricultural experience not Human Society hype.
The State Board of Agriculture will now be tasked with creating and establishing application and license renewal procedures and fees. The Board will also establish procedures for license revocation, denial or denial of renewal as well as the minimum standards of care for animals.
The bill grandfathers in cage sizes that are USDA compliant as long as the licensing of such facilities occurs prior to Sept. 1, 2012. Following that date the Department of Agriculture is allowed to promulgate cage size requirements for any new cages purchased or facilities built. The cage size issue was critical to avoid the potential for an animal rights activist-led initiative petition process as witnessed in Missouri. That process led to a ballot measure that cost the agricultural community millions and one we needed to avoid in Oklahoma. My thanks to Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reece in working with other secretaries of agriculture across the nation and consequently helping Rep. Richardson and I address the cage size issue wisely.
The bill only applies to breeders who have eleven or more female cats of dogs capable of reproducing. Breeders will have an exemption for animals that are used for training and not breeding as we wanted to ensure cattle or hunting dog enterprises were exempt. Such was not the case previously.
The Department of Ag can contract with a local veterinarian, other state agency or any other person to conduct prelicense inspections and annual inspections and this will allow anyone who is already being inspected by USDA to have only one entity to deal with. Additionally, we spelled out in the bill that the Department of Ag can’t hire any Humane Society/PETA group member to make the inspections; thereby, stopping the intimidating and antagonistic relationship found between business owners and inspectors.
We also made this bill taxpayer friendly. In many cases large animal inspectors already employed by the Dept. Of Ag will be in the same general area (inspecting sale barns, etc.) and they will be dually trained to inspect the small animal facilities, thereby utilizing state resources more efficiently.
The department may deny a license or renewal or revoke a license if a breeder is convicted of a crime involving animal cruelty, violation of the Commercial Pet Breeders Act or violent felony offenses or a felony punishable under the Oklahoma Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The board also may revoke or deny a license if a person’s license pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act was revoked or denied due to improper care of animals.
The measure also creates the Commercial Pet Breeders Assistance Revolving Fund to be used for defraying veterinary costs and care of animals removed from a commercial pet breeder.
HB 2921 will go into effect on July 1, 2012.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 513A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at email@example.com, or call (405) 521-5586.