Michigan is one of 36 states to partake in the flurry of Lame Duck activity as 2018 came to a close. The outgoing governor, Rick Snyder, reviewed nearly 400 bills between the November elections and the end of his term. For the veterinary and animal industry communities, the end result was a mixed bag of both signed and vetoed bills.
Among the wins for animal safety was the passage of HB 4333 (2018) which increases penalties for crimes relating to animal abuse. Among the changes was an increase in the maximum prison term for first and second-degree offenses in addition to longer probationary periods for those involved with certain cruelty or neglect cases. Additionally, the bill adds new language that would establish a felony option for breeders or pet shop owners with five or more prior convictions of animal abuse or neglect.
A second positive bill was SB 1234 (2018), from Senator David Knezek, that would allow police canines harmed in the line of duty to be transported by ambulance to a veterinary hospital. The bill was introduce quite late in the session, November 28th, but moved very quickly through both houses. While SB 1234 has caveats for transportation, such as giving humans priority for transport, it certainly may save the life of a K9-unit member. While not a momentous change to the law, it’s a small victory to be proud of.
Two other bills with oddly specific language were also signed by the governor, much to the chagrin of many in the zoo and wildlife fields, regarding the breeding of large carnivores, and more specifically, black bears. The summary language included with the bills asserts that their intent is to fix an error aimed at allowing carnivore breeding at licensed zoos; however, the bills do not uphold the criteria of being a licensed zoo in order to apply for breeding. Rather, both for-profit and non-profit businesses can apply for a license to breed. With the passage of HB 5778 (2018) and HB 6050 (2018), a licensed breeder would be allowed to breed up to four females per year. The bills also seem to contradict themselves, as HB 5778 notes that patrons may not come in contact with said carnivores, yet HB 6050 asserts that a patron may contact black bears less than 36 weeks or 90 pounds. The bill certainly seems to stem from a bear ranch in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that has been attempting to breed bears for many years.
With as many bills that were signed into law, it seems just as many were vetoed regarding animal industries. Two bills introduced by veterinarian and House Representative Hank Vaupel, House Bills 5916 (2018) and 5917 (2018), would have required that all pet shops source their animals from either animal shelters, rescues, dog retailers, or breeders. The significant change to the law was a new requirement that all animals obtained from breeders must either be from a small breeder, as to not require USDA licensure, or be officially USDA licensed. The second of the two bills would have barred any local unit of government from placing restrictions on pet shops that go beyond these requirements. While it certainly seems this was a bill promoting positive breeding practices, there were very strong opponents to its passage including the Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Humane Society, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, among others. This opposition likely stems from the bill still allowing for large scale breeders to sell their animals through pet shops, despite the requirement for licensing, in addition to barring cities from establishing their own regulations of pet shops. In his veto letter, Governor Snyder focused upon the need for local control, stating “Local control is a longstanding concept in Michigan and any concerns the bill might have addressed are manifestly local in nature.”
SB 660 (2017), after passing the senate and sitting idly in the House Committee on Government Operations for nearly a year, moved quickly and went from leaving committee on the 4th of December to being enrolled on the 6th and presented to Governor Snyder on the 11th. The bill, another amendment to the Animal Industry Act, would have delayed implementation of new space requirements for both poultry and swine from being implemented in 2019 to a new deadline of 2025. Additionally, and likely the reason for opposition from groups like Michigan Farm Bureau and Michigan Pork Producers Association, was a requirement for all shelled eggs sold in the state of Michigan to adhere to the same standards outlined within the bill. This unfortunately sets a precedent, as was seen in California’s recent Prop 12, that allows a state to dictate which animal products can be sold within the state; a precedent many trade organizations are not willing to support. In his veto letter, Governor Snyder pointed to the lack of scientific evidence that different poultry housing types have any significant impact on animal welfare or food safety. Because of this, he agreed that this bill would have set a dangerous precedent for animal agriculture in Michigan and accordingly did not sign the bill. SB 660 has for the time being sent back to the drawing board, but with support from poultry trade organizations like Michigan Egg Producers and animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States alike, it is sure to return as a similar bill in the coming year.
A surprise came from a set of bills headlined by HB 6205 (2018) and championed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that would have rewritten the Animal Industry Act. The essence of the bill was to simplify the law by consolidating many aspects of the act in an organized manner. Besides the reshuffling of sections, the rewrite would have consolidated power for response to an animal disease outbreak to the state veterinarian, potentially allowing for a faster and more robust response. These changes were beneficial to the state and public health and had the bill been presented to Governor Snyder as initially drawn up, it most likely would have been signed into law. Interestingly, at the last minute, language from SB 660 was inserted into the bill before it was passed, more or less creating SB 660 as a tie-bar. Governor Snyder stated in his veto letter that this language, which he already vetoed in SB 660, was the reason for not signing the bill. While the Michigan Farm Bureau and other industry groups were in support of this bill, it is likely that had this new language been included from the beginning, it would have gained little support.
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