Right now, as they do every year, our opponents are mobilizing in state legislatures around the country to halt the march forward for animal protection. Even as we have worked with countless stakeholders to win passage of hundreds of bills and local ordinances year after year, our opponents have dug in to obstruct us, usually by introducing ag-gag bills and other preemptive measures. Many of these bills not only threaten animal welfare, they also threaten the democratic process itself by stifling voters’ choice and ability to drive change in their own communities.
Last year, the Humane Society of the United States successfully defeated 29 such bills and already this year we’re up against similar bills in 15 states, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. We have successfully stopped many of these from moving forward and are working to defeat the others.
Here’s a look at some of the bills introduced in current state legislative sessions to block animal protection efforts:
- Ag-gag bills: Ag-gag bills restrict transparency on factory farms by criminalizing the actions of good-faith whistleblowers and preventing investigations into abuse. Bills of this nature introduced in Iowa and Alabama this year have already died, and over the past decade, the HSUS and our allies have defeated more than 30 such bills across the country. We’re also working to stop efforts in some states to censor labels on plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products.
- Puppy mill preemption bills: For some time, we’ve been telling you about bills backed by Petland, the national puppy-selling pet store chain, that attempt to stop localities from passing ordinances that stop the sales of puppy mill puppies in pet stores. More than 340 localities now have such laws on their books. In West Virginia we stopped a bill before its introduction, and in Tennessee, Nebraska and Oklahoma we blocked efforts to move bills carried over from last year. In Iowa we successfully removed pet store preemption language from a bill. We helped kill a broad preemption bill in Alabama that would have prevented localities from regulating pet stores, and a narrower pet store preemption bill in Florida. Florida is the key battleground state in this fight because 70 local pet store ordinances are at stake there. Efforts to pass puppy mill preemption measures in Illinois and Kansas are as good as dead, but we will be watching them closely until the end of session in case there are any attempts to revive them.
- Working animal bills: These bills, backed by entities like the Cavalry Group and Shrine Circus, are similar to the preemption bills supported by Petland but broader, and designed to prevent counties and localities from regulating any activity involving working animals, including wild animals in circuses and roadside zoos, carriage horses, mounted police units, dogs and horses in racing, police and service dogs, horse slaughter, fairs, parades, etc. Missouri is considering such a bill as is Iowa.
- Bills restricting ballot initiatives: The HSUS has used the ballot initiative process with great success in recent years, including in California, where our efforts culminated in voters passing a historic law banning the extreme cage confinement of egg-laying hens, mother pigs and baby veal calves. But in some states, our opponents are trying to make it harder to get such measures on the ballot. More specifically, these bills would increase signature requirements for ballot initiatives, place undue burdens on signature gathering, require a super-majority to pass and restrict ballots to non-animal issues. There is now such a bill in play in Idaho.
- Right to Hunt bills and constitutional amendments: These measures could leave it to state legislatures and unelected commissions alone to set wildlife policy, preventing localities from passing ordinances or citizens from creating ballot measures, and insulating cruel practices from legal challenges. A proposed constitutional amendment in Utah would prevent citizens’ ballot measures on wildlife policy, and another in New Jersey would prevent the legislature from banning practices like bear trophy hunting or wildlife killing contests. A bill in Vermont would hand an unprecedented amount of power to the state’s unelected fish and wildlife commissioner.
With legislative sessions still in progress, our state directors are on the job, keeping a close eye on all bills that remain under consideration. We are grateful to them, our District Leader Volunteers and our State Council members for the work they do every day to strengthen state laws for animal protection. If you would like to get involved in these efforts, please contact your local state director. We need your help. Let’s work together to stop those who exploit animals from pushing their agenda forward.