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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

King Amendment Goes to the Dogs

As we enter the second week of the government shutdown, the to-do list for Congress only gets longer. During the coming weeks, we will hear a lot of talk about the debt ceiling, efforts to reopen the government and debate about cutting various federal programs. The Farm Bill is another major piece of legislation still awaiting congressional action, and there has been some talk about rolling the massive agriculture policy vehicle into a “grand bargain” that reopens the government and deals with the debt ceiling.

PuppymillThis should be a concern for animal advocates, and much would depend on which version of the Farm Bill is folded into a larger must-pass package. Both the House and the Senate versions of the bill include provisions fortifying the anti-animal fighting statute and making it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to a staged animal fight. The House version, however, also contains a radical and overreaching amendment, offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that could nullify any state or local law that sets standards for agricultural production.

The King amendment has come under fire from nearly 100 organizations, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the County Executives of America, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of State Fire Marshalls. All of these organizations recognize a dangerous federal power grab when they see one.

The most obvious impacts of the King amendment are aimed at farm animal protection laws that several states have passed over the last decade, setting basic standards of care for animals on factory farms, prohibiting inhumane practices such as extreme confinement and force-feeding. But the King amendment is so vague and broad, that it could be applied to any state or local law dealing with an agricultural product—from catfish to tobacco—and could even roll back laws designed to protect dogs in large-scale, commercial puppy mills.

In five states, for example, dogs are considered “livestock,” and thus the safety-net of laws and regulations protecting breeding dogs and puppies could be quashed by the King amendment’s mandate that any “agricultural product” be immune from all state regulation. If the King amendment is enacted, basic regulations ensuring that dogs receive adequate housing and protection from the elements, clean water and food, and veterinary care could be in jeopardy in Georgia, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregon.

In another ten states that classify dogs as livestock for certain purposes, it would be up to the courts to decide whether the King amendment wipes out humane protections against abusive puppy mills. At the very least, humane law enforcement efforts in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming would be severely chilled by the threat of federal preemption under King, and may face long, expensive legal battles in the courts—further hampering efforts to crack down on animal cruelty.

And the damage won’t stop there. Another 21 states have so-called “puppy lemon laws” that place conditions on the sale of dogs to consumers, not only protecting families who purchase sick dogs, but also using market forces to encourage humane treatment and better conditions by commercial dog sellers. But under the extreme King amendment, these types of consumer regulations could be wiped out as well because they place a burden on interstate commerce.

Every day, we find new and startling ways the King amendment could decimate decades of humane, consumer protection, environmental conservation, public safety, and other important state laws and regulations. As the government shutdown continues to march forward, one thing Republicans and  Democrats should be able to agree on is that rolling back state health and safety regulations to pre-20th century levels is no way to run a government.

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