Never underestimate the ability of a politician to make political hay from a totally useless exercise in public policy. There are undoubtedly countless examples of this, but today's lesson comes courtesy of the state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
Some of its members will be touting someday soon - the next election - their support of legislation that they say will crack down on pet breeders that sell abused and sick animals. "We definitely want to maintain the regulation of doggie mills, the big ones, the big doggie mills," said state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). But that statement leans to the farcical because lawmakers in fact have done nothing to protect puppies and kittens from unhealthy and unsafe conditions.
To recap: Under the law approved as part of the current budget, a licensing and inspection program is slated to begin Feb. 1, 2004, covering breeders, dealers, kennels and shelters with a minimum of 25 dogs or cats. State inspections by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection were made mandatory. The program was to be funded not through tax dollars but through increases in pet licenses, fees on breeders and penalties for violations.
But former Gov. Scott McCallum foolishly vetoed the fee increases. Then the Joint Finance Committee approved an amendment earlier this month that would make inspections voluntary and apply the new requirements only to breeders selling at least 50 dogs and cats. The committee also declined to provide any funding for enforcement.
So the law will be on the books, but there will be no way for state agencies to enforce it and no incentive for them to do so. To most folks, that makes no sense. To politicians, it's the perfect compromise. They can thump their chests about what they've done to protect all those poor little pups and kitties, and yet they won't actually offend any voters or campaign donors who might be breeders, dealers or owners of kennels and shelters.
Gov. Jim Doyle would like the law struck from the books, and some make the eminently sensible argument that the state should have a fully funded program or no program at all. We agree, but we opt for the fully funded program, and we hope the full Legislature, which will be taking up the recommendations of the Joint Finance Committee, sees the wisdom of restoring the funding mechanism McCallum vetoed.
We don't hold out much hope that wisdom will prevail, but lawmakers might want to remember two things: There are a lot more pet owners than there are breeders, and voters are nowhere near as gullible as some lawmakers seem to think they are.
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