While it’s true that HB 548, a bill to encourage responsible breeding of dogs in Alabama, never really had a chance of passing this legislative session, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have a chance to be discussed.
But denying discussion is exactly what Grand Bay Republican state Rep. David Sessions, chairman of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee, is doing.
Sessions is refusing to put the bill on his committee’s agenda because of opposition from the American Kennel Club.
“Sorry no one on committee is in favor of this bill it needs a lot of work. The sponsor needs to work with breeders to get something that works for everyone concerned.”
That’s an email from Sessions concerning the bill. Even that statement is shaky, because one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Montgomery Republican Rep. Reed Ingram is on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee.
If there are real concerns that the bill overreaches, discussion and compromise are the paths to making it better. But Sessions is keeping even discussion from taking place. That is wrong.
There is no such thing as a perfect bill, and Sessions knows that. The hard work of passing responsible legislation is, well, hard work. Sessions is avoiding the work by telling the bill’s sponsor, Prattville Republican state Rep. Paul Beckman to get all objections worked out before considering the bill.
That’s an impossible task. Of course, there are going to be objections, to almost any bill and certainly one that would regulate puppy mills. Alabama is known as a state where puppy mills can operate virtually without limit. HB 548 would put some responsible limits on backyard breeders and puppy mills.
Those requirements include treating dogs humanely, making sure they’re fed, making sure they get exercise and are taken to veterinarians when they’re injured or sick.
Sessions doesn’t even want that discussion to start until he has, apparently, a “perfect” bill, which he knows, as a legislator, is impossible.
“Responsible dog owners and breeders are extremely concerned that many provisions of HB 548 are not in the best interest of dogs,” wrote AKC government relations director Sheila Goffe in a letter to Beckman. Actually, the bill isn’t in the best interest of puppy mill breeders; it’s definitely in the best interest of dogs.
And while there may need to be modifications to the bill, that can’t happen until the bill is discussed. Sessions isn’t allowing that by keeping it off Agriculture and Forestry’s agenda.
“He’s (Sessions) killing it before it even goes anywhere,” said Angie Ingram, a Birmingham lawyer who helped get HB 548 introduced. Ingram was a leader of a group that rescued a number of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels from an Alabama breeder who put them up for auction in Missouri last year. “It’s one thing to drag something out, but just to refuse to put it on the agenda?”
That’s wrong; Sessions should not keep his committee from even discussing the bill just because the AKC opposes it. It’s not like Alabama is the first state proposing to regulate backyard breeders. Other states have already passed similar legislation.
So now, Ingram said, her group will be ready for a harder fight next session.
The focus needs to be on the dogs, not the breeders. If a breeder is responsible, there’s nothing to worry about. But if breeders are not responsible — and many are not — they should have something to worry about.
Joey Kennedy is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of Alabama’s strongest animal advocates. In addition to his storied journalism career, in December he received the Abe Krawchak Award from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society Auxiliary for his efforts to improve the lives of Alabama’s animals.
This column was republished with permission from Animal Advocates of Alabama, a site created by Joey and his wife Veronica to increase awareness for animal based issues throughout the state. Please visit ALAnimals.com to learn more.