Every year, bad ideas end up as bills in the Florida Legislature, many of which attempt to seize power away from local governments and communities. One of those bad preemption bills considered this past session would have crippled local governments’ ability to stop the puppy-mill-to-pet-store pipeline in local jurisdictions.
A puppy mill is an establishment that breeds puppies and kittens for sale on an intensive basis and in often inhumane conditions.
In this industry, dog and cat mothers and fathers are treated like money-making machines, bred over and over with little regard for their health or well-being, not to speak of a total lack of love and comfort. These poor animals are beaten, starved and crammed into cages much smaller than their size, covered in their own filth.
There are implications for public health. Recent epidemiologic and laboratory evidence from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that contact with puppies, especially those at pet stores, was the likely source of a Campylobacter jejuni outbreak. The bacteria is a multi-drug resistant infection that can be passed from sick animals to humans. The CDC said this recent outbreak affected many people who had contact with puppies or were employees at pet stores like Petland, where puppy mill dogs were sold. It is extremely dangerous to humans.
Breeding at puppy mills is an abhorrent practice that most people are firmly against, and local governments across the country have been opposing. More than 400 cities, towns and counties in 31 states have joined the movement to stop the practice, including here in Florida. Unfortunately, that progress was under attack from one terribly crafted law from this year’s session: SB 620.
Although eliminating puppy mill bans was not mentioned in the bill text, it would have stopped cities and counties from enacting additional regulations on businesses, including those that profit from animal abuse. For instance, it would prevent any additional local ordinances that stop the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores, leaving many communities vulnerable to an influx of bad actors that harm both pets and consumers.
Under SB 620, pet stores like Petland could sue a city that tried to ban puppy mill dog sales, and force that city to pay up to seven years’ worth of lost profits.
In fact, any company that felt that an ordinance would affect its profits would have been able to file a corporate lawsuit against the local government. The local ordinance would then be put on ice while the lawsuit is heard and the government would have to pay all court costs and legal fees. This is wrong for myriad reasons. Localities simply cannot properly manage pet overpopulation while being stripped of their ability to stop the influx of puppy mill puppies into their communities to be sold in pet stores.
Unfortunately, it’s not just puppy mills that would come roaring back. Local governments all over Florida would be forced to stop legislating entirely on issues such as vacation party rentals, polystyrene containers and plastic straws or hours of liquor sales. It’s a slippery slope, and we were dangerously close to sliding off it. This past session, the bill actually passed both chambers.
As the Democratic Leader of the Florida House, I agree with most local leaders who believe in home rule, local government, and the principle that the government closest to the people governs best. In this instance, I also agree with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who asked that SB 620 be amended before it hit his desk to ensure local governments wouldn’t face retaliation for laws meant to protect animal welfare. We should allow local leaders to lead on this issue and allow the level of government winning the fight against animal abuse to continue.
All creatures, man and animal alike, deserve to be treated fairly and humanely. The values of pet-loving Floridians cannot be represented by policies that protect animal abuse and harm pets and consumers. Gov. DeSantis recently vetoed SB 620, but I can assure you there will be another attempt next year. We need to end abuse and torture of puppies and kittens for profit and kill these preemption bills during the session.
Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach is Democratic leader of the Florida House of Representatives.