California lawmakers adjourned for the year with a bang when it comes to animal welfare, sending a raft of major pro-animal bills to Governor Jerry Brown and blocking several maneuvers to backtrack on animal welfare issues. The state cemented its place as the friendliest one for animals, setting a high bar for other states to emulate.
The one measure that hung in the balance until the very end of the session concerned an effort by the government of Australia and its kangaroo-killing industry to secure permanent access to the California market for skins and meat from kangaroos shot in the Outback. A number of major companies, including Nike and Gucci, sell footwear made from kangaroo skins. The law banning imports had been suspended for the last seven years, enabling those sales, but an attempt this year to extend that suspension of the law and to repeal it entirely failed badly, after HSUS lobbyist Jennifer Fearing conducted a brilliant campaign to block it. Major newspapers throughout the state – including the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, and San Diego Union Tribune – urged defeat of a late-session maneuver by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, to bypass regular order and to pass the bill in the waning hours. KGO-TV’s Dan Noyes did a hard-hitting piece. The effort didn’t even come to a vote because of broad bipartisan opposition.
Lawmakers also rejected an attempt to block local ordinances to restrict hunting and trapping activities and a separate effort to repeal protections for bobcats. In fact, in July, the California Fish and Game Commission, in interpreting the law that one pro-trapping lawmaker sought to nullify, banned all commercial trapping of bobcats. With more than 1,000 bobcats trapped and killed the prior year, that was a highly significant move by the state commission to protect these beautiful creatures.
State lawmakers not only preserved strong laws to protect animals, they added new statutes, approving separate bills banning the use of bullhooks and also banning any commercial trade in ivory. The anti-trafficking bill, AB 96, championed by Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, passed the Senate and Assembly by wide margins, putting California in a position to join New York and New Jersey in adopting strong statutes to restrict just about any trade in ivory or rhino horn. The legislature also gave final approval to SB 716, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants. That effort was set up by Ringling’s March announcement that it would phase out its use of elephants in traveling acts. California will be the first state to prohibit the use of bullhooks in managing elephants, but almost certainly not the last.
Lawmakers approved a bill, AB 147 by Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Van Nuys, requiring that any public university or college that confines dogs or cats for science or research purposes should offer them to an animal adoption or rescue group before killing them. They passed a series of bills from Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, to protect animals, including one measure (AB 494) to authorize restraining orders or protective orders, and another (AB 316) to waive in out-of-state veterinarians to deploy and help animals in disaster situations. Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, shepherded to passage a bill, AB 485, that would enable voluntary contributions from taxpayers to the Prevention of Animal Homelessness and Cruelty Fund, which would provide money to local groups to fund life-saving activities.
Also in a first, the legislature sent to Governor Brown SB 27, authored by Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to prohibit the use of antibiotics for livestock unless prescribed by a veterinarian. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 23,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Estimates are that more than 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are administered to animals on farms. Dr. Michael Blackwell, representing the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and using his 20 years’ experience with the Food and Drug Administration, helped craft this landmark bill to restrict antibiotic overuse.
In recent years, lawmakers banned hounding of bears and bobcats, outlawed the use of lead ammunition in shooting wildlife, forbade tail docking of dairy cows, and passed dozens of other statutes to help animals. So many of these laws got a lift from the landslide passage of Proposition 2 in 2008, which forbid the extreme confinement of veal calves, laying hens, and breeding sows. After lawmakers saw the huge supermajority of animal voters in the state, they got the message.
Some of these measures now await the signature of Governor Brown, and we’re hoping to see him sign them promptly, placing a capstone on this banner year for animals in the Golden State.