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Tales from the Trenches – An Insider’s Guide To the Texas 2021 Legislative Session
June 3, 2021 by AKC Government Relations

As has been widely covered by the media, the last hours of the 2021 Texas Legislative Session were not without drama.  And that drama was not reserved only for the consideration of voting rights legislation.  It extended to “eleventh-hour” political maneuvering on House Bill 1818, the “pet store bill”.    

“Wait, Why Should I Care About Pet Store Legislation?” 

If you are like many fanciers that AKC Government Relations has heard from over the past several years, you may be asking, “I’m a fancier and hobby breeder.  Why should I care about pet store laws?  I don’t have much, if anything, in common with them.” Points heard, but here’s a harsh reality:  Anti-breeder extremists really don’t care what kind of breeder you consider yourself to be.  They lump all of us together and consider all breeders to be reprehensible and morally bankrupt.  Their legislative goals are aimed at stopping all breeders, and they will use whatever advocacy strategy that works best to accomplish this – including old, tried-but-true divide-and-conquer tactics.   

For example, in 2007-2008, anti-breeder groups made big state-level legislative pushes across the country against large-scale breeders by proposing ownership limits and commercial breeder legislation.  Now, more than a decade later, many of those states’ commercial breeder oversight schemes have been proven to be ineffective and insolvent (including the one in Texas). 

With the failure of these commercial breeder oversight schemes, anti-breeder groups have devised another way to attack breeders:  Support legislation to limit their brick-and-mortar sales channel.   

Anti-breeder groups believe that purebred-dog fanciers/breeders don’t like pet stores in the same way they don’t like commercial breeders, and they promote legislation that uses that divide to their advantage.  They single out one group of us while they hope the others remain silent, or they intentionally draft legislation so that one group of us is pitted against the other.  When considering the big picture, their strategy becomes clear:  Attack one type of breeder at a time, until they fall, then attack the next until we have all fallen.   

In the short-term, if animal rights/anti-breeder groups can control the supply of pet dogs and cats, they will also be in a position to stop people from owning pets.  This dovetails with their long-term goal:  a world in which no one owns an animal and animals are considered equal to humans.  In this radical view, animals shouldn’t be pets, or used by humans in any other way, including for food. 

That last point is about more than the bacon and eggs you may enjoy for breakfast.  It’s also about famine.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that livestock provides 25% of protein intake and 15% of dietary energy, and contributes approximately 40% of agricultural gross domestic product, to South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.  Imagine a world in which over one billion people no longer have the food and livelihoods that animals provide.  Not a pretty picture, is it? 

Fellow dog enthusiasts, these are the reasons why you should be concerned about animal rights and care about pet store legislation. 

Back to Texas’ 2021 Pet Store Bill

As introduced, HB 1818 would have limited pet stores located in counties with populations of 200,000 or more (i.e., 24 of Texas’ 252 counties, accounting for a little more than three-fourths its population) to sourcing the dogs and cats they sold to only those obtained from an animal control agency, an animal shelter, an animal rescue organization, or from a licensed breeder.  It was first considered in the House Business and Industry Committee, and the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jared Patterson of Frisco, who was also a committee member, moved to amend the bill to remove licensed breeders as a source.  This amendment made the bill a pure pet store sourcing restrictions bill, like those introduced in many state houses all across the country in 2021; and indicated that the bill was not attempting to address a Texas-specific issue, but was simply part of a nationwide agenda aimed at stopping the professional breeding of purpose-bred dogs. 

The amended bill was approved by the committee; and later, by a vote of 85 Yeas and 54 Nays, it passed the House

The Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee next considered the bill.  Impacted groups, including AKC, shared our views on HB 1818 with committee members.  AKC’s points explained:

  1. How we support the freedom of Texans to buy the pet of their choice without the state’s manipulation of market supply. 
  2. The significant difference between animal welfare policy and animal rights ideology
  3. How HB 1818 was part of national agenda targeting professional breeders and not a legislative solution for a specific Texas problem.     
  4. How HB 1818 would have likely led to puppy laundering—i.e., fraudulently creating non-profit entities that use charitable donations to purchase puppies from illegitimate sources and sell them at retail to an unsuspecting public as “rescues”. 
  5. How an unknown number of Texas small businesses would have been negatively or existentially impacted by HB 1818. 
  6. How, in light of 97% compliance by federal Animal Welfare Act licensees and 98% compliance by Texas’ licensed breeders, proponents’ assumption that professionally-bred dogs sold by retail pet shops are raised in poor conditions was false and uncorroborated.     
  7. That HB 1818 would have had no impact on addressing actual issues of cruelty or negligence.   

As we had when the bill was pending in the House, AKC joined with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and representatives of Texas pet stores in promoting a pragmatic amendment to HB 1818.  As a result of this collective outreach, Senate sponsor and committee member Senator José Menéndez of San Antonio proposed an amendment to HB 1818 to ensure that impacted pet stores could continue to source dogs from licensed commercial breeders who demonstrated a history of meeting appropriate care and conditions standards.  The committee unanimously approved this amendment and moved the amended bill to the full Senate, which also overwhelmingly approved it by a vote of 26 Yeas and 5 Nays. 

Because the House and Senate versions of the bill differed, the House could have simply accepted the Senate’s amendments and sent the bill to Governor Abbott.  Instead, three days before the end of session, it refused to concur in the Senate’s amendments and requested the appointment of a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the versions of the bill. Though not required to do so, the Senate granted the request, reportedly as a courtesy.   In a conference committee, three members from each chamber are required to agree to a particular bill version and move it on for further consideration.  However, the required number from each chamber were unwilling to sign on to the either version by the deadline for conference committee action, which resulted in the bill’s failure. 

All That Work for Nothing? 

With little doubt, had the Senate’s version of HB 1818 been enacted, the new law would have provided a win/win for most involved.  Those actually concerned with animal welfare would have successfully championed (1) reasonable qualifications on the sources from which pet stores could get dogs and cats; and (2) the requirement that the breeders of those pets demonstrate compliance with applicable care and conditions standards. Additionally, licensed commercial breeders would still have been able to do business with brick-and-mortar pet stores, and the stores themselves wouldn’t lose the crucial aspect of their business that differentiates them from big-box pet supply stores.  Texas consumers would have won too:  Their freedom to choose the pet of their choice from the source of their choice would have been preserved, and the supply of purpose-bred pets available to them through pet stores would have enjoyed state-required substantiation of the care they received and the conditions they were raised in.  It’s reasonable to assume the only groups that would have been unhappy with the enactment of the Senate’s version of HB 1818 are the anti-breeder/animal rights groups that aim to shut down dog breeding. 

It can be a disappointment when reasonable legislation, such as the Senate amended version of HB 1818, unnecessarily fails to be enacted… especially after months of work.  However, in our view, the version of HB 1818 that was passed by the House was far too onerous to be enacted:  Greater benefit comes from that version’s defeat than from other possible outcomes for this legislation. 

Regardless, AKC is proud of the effort made by a coalition of animal welfare interest groups and concerned Texans that spent countless hours addressing this legislation.  AKC alone issued eight grassroots action alerts, distributed four letters of testimony/opinion to Texas legislators, published two white papers, and facilitated and conducted countless calls to explain our views and organize grassroots on HB 1818; all while representing the interests of responsible breeders and owners on other issues before the legislature

Now What? 

AKC expects onerous legislation similar to the House version of HB 1818 will be filed when the legislature next convenes in 2023. 

Molly Ivins Can Say That, and She Did 

This year, the Texas Legislature had to confront some pretty tough issues, including COVID-19, what was originally thought to be a very tight state budget, and the disastrous failure of the power grid this past winter.  When dealing with difficult issues, it is not unknown for legislators to push for enactment of dog-related legislation, no matter the consequences, as a means of distraction and deflection:  “Hey voters, look, we did something good, we saved the dogs!”  Many a harmful dog bill has been passed under those circumstances.  Thankfully, the 2021 Texas legislative session was not one of those times.  Nevertheless, after months of hard work, the immortal words of the late columnist, author, political commentator, humorist, and proud Texan, Molly Ivins, helps put a bow on the end of session:   

“So keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it.  Be outrageous... rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce.  And when you get through celebrating the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was!”

We thank all the dog lovers who participated in Texas legislative advocacy this session, and we look forward to working with you again. 

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