Pet-Friendly Bills Struggle in the Florida Legislature

Despite an early victory in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Florida’s HB 1121, the “Community Cat Act,” didn’t make it out of committee to be voted on this session. Ditto for HB 1127, the “Pets’ Trust” bill.

It was a disappointing session for those of interested in saving the lives of companion animals—one made worse by the kind of lazy, irresponsible media coverage that only serves to misinform the public. (It does appear, however, that SB 674, which would require shelters and animal control agencies to maintain—and make available to the public—intake and disposition records, is receiving broad approval.)

I was, not surprisingly, watching HB 1121 more closely than the others—but when a helpful reader pointed out that discussion of HB 1127 in the Local and Federal Affairs Committee on April 4th was broadcast online, I had to take a look. Especially when she told me who was speaking out in opposition to the bill.

Democracy in Action: Do Whatever It Takes

Among the highlights of the committee hearing was longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer (who addresses the committee about sixty-five minutes into the broadcast) who had, earlier in the day, been called out by PolitiFact for her bogus claim (made while speaking in support of SB 674) that rabies strains found in other parts of the county “are entirely different from Florida’s, and our vaccines and serums don’t affect those other strains of rabies.”

But Hammer was undeterred—there, she explained, “working to protect hunting dogs, cattle dogs, police dogs, rescue dogs, seeing-eye dogs—all working dogs—as well as our pets.”

“They are in jeopardy from diseases being brought into Florida by unwanted animals that are being dumped in our state from other states and countries… truckloads of unwanted pets from other states are still flowing into Florida. If this bill passes, Florida could become the pet welfare capital of the nation.”

When Hammer was questioned by Rep. José Javier Rodríguez about where all these “unwanted animals” are coming from—and ending up—she didn’t have much of an answer for him. (“Eighteen-wheelers come in here once a month [from Gulfport, Mississippi], we’ve been told.”)

While Hammer claimed she was there to protect working dogs, Pat Mixon, lobbyist for the Florida Veterinary Medical Association, claimed she was there before the committee to protect working people. But, like Hammer, Mixon struggled to find a coherent argument for her organization’s opposition. (The FVMA, regular readers will recall, also opposed HB 1121; Mixon’s turn at the podium begins at 57:25).

On the one hand, she argued that “not a one of us in this room would vote no to” a millage increase of 0.1079 mills for the kinds of programs spelled out in HB 1127; on the other hand: “the taxpayers in south Florida are so burdened already.” (Note: Only property owners would be affected—and on a property assessed at $200,000, the additional tax burden would be roughly $20 each year.)

The performance of the day, though, went to Don Thompson, executive director of the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation, who was, inexplicably, also speaking on behalf of the FVMA. This is, of course, the same Don Thompson who’s been fighting TNR in Hillsborough County, so it was no surprise that he used the same tactics (e.g., misleading statements, scaremongering, etc.) during his trip to Tallahassee.

I’ve compiled most of his comments (which begin at 52:30 on the House broadcast), along with my response in the following video:

Please share generously—especially with family, friends, and colleagues in Florida (some of whom are no doubt clients of FVMA-member veterinarians).