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Friday, March 12, 2010

A True Champion for Animals

California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) announced today that he was withdrawing his name from the lieutenant governor’s race, and he threw his support behind other Democratic hopefuls. The Humane Society Legislative Fund had endorsed Florez early on, because he stood out in the crowded primary field as the best champion for animal protection with a proven track record of results. I’d like to spend a moment today recapping his record of leadership for the humane treatment of animals.

California Senate Majority Leader Dean
Florez with HSUS State Director Jennifer

Florez represents California’s 16th Senate district, in the Central Valley, and has seen first-hand the adverse impact that industrial factory farms have on animals, the environment, public health, and rural communities. Even though he represents a strong agricultural district, Florez has been prepared to confront tough issues and to get results. He was one of the earliest supporters of Proposition 2, which phases out the extreme confinement of farm animals in small crates and cages where they are basically immobilized for their entire lives. After it passed in 2008 with the most votes in California history, he called it “the equivalent of the earthquake that shook the legislature.”

He then used that momentum and reorganized the former Senate Agriculture Committee to become the Senate Food & Agriculture Committee, which he chairs. The change signaled a new direction from a committee created to exclusively protect the interests of industrial agricultural producers, to one that recognizes the importance of consumers and balances the interests of animal welfare, the environment, food safety and public health concerns for good agricultural policy. This was the first such reorganization of an agricultural committee in the country, following increased national discourse on food policy issues and setting a precedent for other states to follow. Florez commented, “Big Ag has always ruled, and they don’t lose much. I want to take advantage of Prop 2’s momentum and strike a balance.”

And one of the first bills to be advanced by the new committee, authored by Sen. Florez, was S.B. 135, which bans the tail docking of dairy cows. This painful and unnecessary mutilation is often performed without anesthesia. Florez brought humane organizations, veterinarians and agricultural groups together to create consensus for the measure, which passed the Senate and the Assembly and was signed into law by the governor. As California is the nation’s top dairy-producing state, a ban on tail docking sets a nationwide precedent, and we’ve now seen similar bills introduced in large dairy states like New York.

Sen. Florez has backed a raft of other animal welfare policies, including measures to establish felony-level penalties for illegal cockfighting, ban the use of toxic lead ammunition in the habitat of the critically endangered California condor, require rodeos to have veterinarians available to treat injured animals, crack down on abusive puppy mills, prohibit convicted animal abusers from owning animals and ban the sale of meat from “downer” livestock too sick or injured to stand or walk on their own. He is now championing a new resolution, S.J.R. 22, which has a hearing next Tuesday and, if passed by the legislature, would give California’s official endorsement to federal legislation in Congress barring horse slaughter for human consumption. And he is one of four co-chairs of the newly formed, bipartisan California Animal Protection Caucus.

As a lawmaker, Sen. Florez has the ability and courage to forge solutions on the major issues of the day in California, and many of his path-breaking efforts have already had rippled effects around the country. We are grateful for his leadership and advocacy on behalf of animals, and we look forward to working with him over the next year in the Senate and then look forward to seeing where his instinct to promote public service pushes him.


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