A handful of Missouri legislators continue to thumb their noses at the people of Missouri in an irresponsible quest to gut Proposition B, the voter-approved ballot measure to strengthen standards of care for dogs at large-scale commercial dog-breeding operations.
The legislature never acted on the tide of information revealing widespread problems at Missouri's puppy mills, just as it never acted to make cockfighting illegal.
Dogs at a Missouri puppy mill in 2010.
It took the citizens of Missouri to address both matters — a ban on cockfighting passed as a ballot measure in 1998, and subsequent misguided attempts by legislators to repeal it were unsuccessful. Now, with some lawmakers already trying to undo the November 2010 vote to regulate puppy mills, people are getting angry.
Young people like Maria Smith, who probably studies civics and government at her high school in Lee's Summit, Mo., is furious. "Missouri voters remain as voiceless and powerless as the dogs bred in thousands of puppy mills across the state against the corporate interests represented by our elected officials," she wrote earlier this week in the Kansas City Star.
And then there's Wayne Cipriano from Ava, Mo., who actually opposed Prop B and thought it was an overreach. But what's far worse to him is the disrespect that lawmakers are showing for the voters. "A statewide judgment rendered directly by the citizens in a legitimate general election should, and in a democratic republic, must take precedence over the will of the representatives elected by those citizens," he wrote in the Springfield News-Leader. "If this is not the case, what is the purpose of propositions — to allow citizens to shoulder some of the burdens of an overworked legislature while under its supervision?"
Prop B passed in a statewide vote of the people of Missouri. It was so moderate that it gave dog breeders a full year to come into compliance, so technically speaking, the measure hasn't even taken effect, yet lawmakers are trying to undo it. It passed in a majority of state house and senate districts, as well as in a majority of Congressional districts. The same people who passed Prop B in a majority vote were responsible for placing all of these elected officials in their seats. It doesn't seem right somehow that they can have it one way on their elections to office, and another way on issue-focused elections.
Nearly all of the state's major papers agree. Michael Markarian laid out their opinions in a blog earlier this week:
Having chosen not to act in the first place, it's outrageous for legislators to substitute their judgment for that of the voters after the fact. -Editorial, Independence Examiner, Feb. 3, 2011
I did not support this in 2010, but the majority of the state did. I care about that. Yet it seems the Republican-heavy legislature does not. They think you were foolish to pass such a law and they want to gut it or kill it. -David Rosman, Columbia Missourian, Feb. 2, 2011
A basic issue is whether the legislature should so quickly amend the will of the voters. It's legal for lawmakers to second-guess initiative voters, but usually after a decent interval when the paucity of their decision is clear. Perhaps a case can be made for changing Prop B, but only after we know more about the efficacy of the existing law. -Henry J. Waters III, Columbia Tribune, Feb. 1, 2011
One proposal simply would repeal the law. Another would exempt existing breeders. A third course, warmly received by many committee members on Tuesday, would eliminate such pesky provisions of the law as prohibiting dangerous overcrowding in cages, protecting dogs from bad weather and providing them veterinary care when needed. [T]he Missouri Legislature prefers to defy the will of the people, trash duly enacted voter initiatives and bow to the will of special interests more to their liking. -Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 27, 2011
One of the bills, sponsored by Rep. Stanley Cox, a Sedalia Republican, would modify the ballot measure by:
-Removing the provisions requiring owners to provide adequate shelter from the elements, sufficient housing, sufficient space to turn and stretch freely, necessary veterinary care and adequate rest between breeding cycles.
-Removing the provisions requiring water for dogs to be free of debris, feces, algae and other contaminants.
With his proposed changes, Cox has soundly validated the wisdom of voters in passing the puppy mill cruelty act. -Editorial, Kansas City Star, Jan. 29, 2011
Proposition B passed by a narrow margin, but pass it did. Animal welfare groups sought the public vote because the legislature for years shirked its responsibility to require decent treatment of dogs. Lawmakers who have filed bills seeking to overturn Proposition B are demonstrating their contempt for the wishes of the people. They would be far wiser to help breeders comply with the new law. -Editorial, Kansas City Star, Dec. 29, 2010
Before the election, we took a strong stance against passage of the ballot proposition pitched as a protective measure for puppies. Here, we take a strong stance to try to protect the main tenets of the proposition. Contradictory? No. Voters have made the call on this one. We accept that. We support the process that allows a voter initiative to create law in Missouri. Those who are now trying to repeal Proposition B should back off. -Editorial, Springfield News-Leader, Dec. 19, 2010
Proposition B was among the most discussed and debated issues on the November ballot. To contend the voters were misled undermines their intelligence. It doesn't matter whether we — or other newspapers — opposed it, whether a vast majority of counties rejected it or whether legislators are happy with the outcome. -Editorial, Jefferson City News Tribune, Dec. 4, 2010
Here in Missouri, voters have decided to let voters decide. Unless, of course, we decide we want to curb abuses in puppy mills, something a number of our state lawmakers have decided we didn't have the right to decide. -Barbara Shelly, Kansas City Star, Nov. 12, 2010
This would never have gone to the ballot at all if state legislators at some point could have bestirred themselves to enact at least some of these reforms, but, as with other issues, they took a pass. They've had their chances. It's a little late now to suddenly show concern because an election went the wrong way. -Editorial, Independence Examiner, Nov. 10, 2010
Missouri lawmakers should respect the will of the voters on puppy mills, even if they disagree with what voters had to say. Anything less damages democracy and insults voters. -Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 8, 2010
During the campaign, a preposterous story line took hold that the move to regulate dog breeding operations was the first step in a calculated attempt to drive animal agriculture out of Missouri. Legislators would be very deceitful to use such unfounded fears as a basis to repeal Proposition B. -Editorial, Kansas City Star, Nov. 6, 2010
Elections do matter. Lawmakers must keep their hands off of a measure approved by the people. There's nothing much more fundamental to democracy than that.