Bill To Keep Cities From Passing Limits On Pet Stores Passes Legislature - But That's Not All

Dec 7, 2016

The Ohio House has passed a bill that prevents local communities from preventing sales of puppies at pet stores. But that’s not all this legislation does. 

The original bill was a plan that would ban local communities from regulating sales of puppies at pet stores. The attorney for Petland, Mike Gonidakis, says this is a big win for the pet store’s customers.

“Pet stores for the first time in the state of Ohio will be licensed and regulated and require full transparency by the Department of Agriculture.”

But Vicki Deisner of ASPCA says she wishes lawmakers, who worried about local bans potentially putting pet stores that sell puppies out of business, would have worked with organizations like hers to prevent puppy mills from proliferating.

“To make sure that customers are protected, that it’s fair to business but most importantly to make sure it’s humane for both the puppies that are sold and unfortunately, the breeding animals that never get out of the mills and spend their whole lives in misery.”

But the issue of who sets the rules brings a strange twist here. Democratic Representative Denise Driehaus noted it put members of her party against Republicans, who often sing the praises of local control.

“And so here we come as the legislature and say, no we’ve changed our minds, and we will not allow local jurisdictions to make decisions on their own and we are going to have a blanket decision statewide that will dictate how we operate.”

The question of local control wasn’t limited to pet stores. There are many bills that lawmakers want to pass in this lame duck session. And they're running out of time to do that. So the pet store measure became what’s known in Statehouse circles as a “Christmas tree”…..legislation on which many other bills are added to get all of it passed before Christmas. And there's a little something for almost everyone in it. Republican lawmakers who controlled the bill added another proposal that bans local communities from enacting minimum wage increases. That’s something Republican Jim Buchy said was necessary for the health of Ohio’s economy.

“Here we are trying to grow jobs and the economy and the last thing we want to do is set up a way that we can have varied minimum wages throughout the state that is going to help destroy the economy.”

When bills are added to legislation in Ohio, they're supposed to relate to the main subject of the bill under what's called the "single subject rule". One addition to the bill made bestiality illegal. Another made cock fighting a felony. But there was a provision that didn’t appear to be related to the pet store bill at all, or to local control.  Lawmakers attached a proposal that would make it easier for AT&T to operate its wireless services. Kelli DiFrischia of the Columbus Dog Connection said she didn’t understand why.

“It’s a stretch to understand what wireless has to do with pet stores.”

DiFrischia and other animal advocates questioned the process, saying the pet store issue should have been fully debated on its own. They urged lawmakers to put it off until next year so they could come up with more comprehensive legislation to prevent puppy mills. But in the end, lawmakers voted 55 to 40 to pass the pet-store-turned-"Christmas tree" bill. Term-limited Republican Representative Dave Hall is from Amish country in eastern Ohio, where a lot of puppy mills are located. Hall won't be back, but he says lawmakers who will promise to strengthen animal welfare legislation next session.

“Knowing I have the commitment of legislators that they will take the next step on the issue of out of state dogs, puppies that come in from out of state with no direction…so I think we are heading in the right direction.”

Now all eyes are on the direction Gov. John Kasich’s pen will take. DiFrischia and Deisner say they are urging him to veto the puppy mill legislation, which comes to him with a lot of extra things attached.