This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 21, 2011 - Just two days after offering a compromise aimed at bridging opposing sides, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, was once again on the hot seat about Proposition B, a ballot measure narrowly approved by Missouri voters last fall to regulate dog breeding operations -- and once again declined to state where he stands.
After the GOP-dominated legislature sent Nixon a bill to weaken numerous provisions of the initiative, the governor attempted to re-frame the issue Monday by offering an alternative that received support from some animal welfare groups, agriculture organizations and Republican legislators.
But some Republican lawmakers say that the compromise will die unless Nixon signs the bill sponsored by state Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, and now some organizations that supported the original initiative say the compromise is inadequate.
Asked today about his intentions at a dedication ceremony for a bike trail, Nixon refused to say whether he would sign or veto Parson's bill.
"We've been working obviously for a number of months, but specifically over the last week to try to put together a Missouri solution to this challenge so that we can continue to make sure that ... pet breeders here are well regulated, but on the other side of that coin make sure that they can continue to raise in a humane way pets in our state," Nixon said. "My hope is that solution is part of legislation that gets to my desk very quickly."
"We've been working with them to make sure we sequence properly the things that are needed to get done here -- the additions to the legislation that will need to get done by the legislature to fully implement the solution that's been agreed to," Nixon added after being asked again if he would sign or veto Parson's bill. "We will look forward to coordinating with the legislature to get all of that done in a timely fashion."
But in what could be a hint, the governor did say that Prop B was flawed and that he did not feel that endorsing a new proposal loosening several of the measure's restrictions would repudiate the will of the people.
"Our goal is to try to make solid reformation of a sector of our agriculture economy that needs that -- while still working to allow them to do their business," said Nixon. "Without going into excruciating details, there were challenges that that ballot measure did not adequately address."
A Fraying Truce
Earlier this month, the Missouri House passed legislation overhauling numerous aspects of Proposition B. Among other things, the bill eliminated a cap of 50 on the number of breeding dogs allowed. It also removed a requirement limiting a dog's breeding cycle to no more than twice every 18 months. Additionally, the bill loosened requirements for veterinarian care, food and water, cage size and exercise.
Lawmakers who supported Parson's bill said the measure was necessary to ensure that dog breeders across the state don't go out of business. But Prop B proponents, including a coalition of the ASPCA, the the Humane Society of Missouri and the national Humane Society, called on Nixon to veto the bill, arguing that the measure essentially repealed aspects of the proposition and overrode the will of the people.
Nixon's office announced a compromise of sorts on Monday. While his proposal alters some of the implementation dates and definitions encased in Parson's bill, it would remove the 50 breeding dog limit and breeding prohibition. Although the agreement was endorsed by some animal welfare organizations, others -- such as the national Humane Society -- said it was inadequate.
Parson told the Beacon on Monday that any effort to pass Nixon's proposal was predicated on the governor's signing his bill. Parson and other legislative leaders reiterated that message in a press release Tuesday.
"If SB 113 & 95 is vetoed, the agriculture community in Missouri will have taken a serious setback, and our efforts to pass new legislation would be heavily compromised," Parson said in a statement.
"By announcing a compromise after a bill has already passed the General Assembly, it is important he show leadership and sign Senate Bill 113 & 95 before the compromise language can move forward in good faith," added Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, in a statement.
Asked what he thought of comments that his signature is crucial for any alternative to move forward, Nixon said meetings he's had with legislative leaders have been "very, very productive."
"Obviously, you cover the legislature a lot," Nixon said. "It's a fluid and moving process."
Both Sides Gather to Protest
The intensity of the issue spilled over later Wednesday afternoon as hundreds of people from both sides of the debate congregated for dueling rallies at the Capitol.
Parson -- joined on the Capitol steps by numerous lawmakers from both parties who support his bill -- told an overflow crowd that Nixon needed to sign his bill for any compromise to move forward. Other lawmakers -- such as Mayer and House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville -- echoed that sentiment.
Also speaking was Department of Agriculture director Jon Hagler, who told the crowd that the governor and lawmakers would work together toward a final agreement. He did not give an indication whether Nixon would sign Parson's bill.
"As important to these changes are, as important as all their work has been, we have to remind ourselves that it will be not enough if we don't carry it through," Hagler said. "If we don't stand together, our work will not be done until Democrats and Republicans come together in overwhelming numbers to also pass [the compromise] and ensure Missourians -- not outside interests -- control our state's future."
Participants at the rally included dog breeders such as Wright County resident Connie Crewse, who said Proposition B would severely hinder her ability to do her job. Crewse -- who said she raises "mostly pugs" -- said Proposition B was designed to regulate dog breeders "into extinction."
"I honestly would have to have a ton of money to make buildings to match the space requirement that they allow," Crewse said. "Heating and air conditioning for each dog, absolutely ridiculous. We've got homeless veterans on the street all over the place and they're more worried about animals in their natural element? I mean, it's just not right."
Outside the governor's mansion, supporters of the regulations approved in the ballot initiative urged Nixon to veto Parson's bill. Many came from St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield to voice their displeasure at what they perceive as the gutting of the initiative.
Barbara Schmitz, Missouri state director for the Humane Society and the spokeswoman for the coalition that passed the proposition, said the initiative belonged to the hundreds of thousands of voters who supported her group's efforts.
"Right now there are forces -- strong forces -- that are working against us and working to turn back the clock," Schmitz said. "They want to carve up Proposition B, they want to leave the dogs in misery again. And we're not going to let that happen."
South St. Louis County resident Andrew DeAngelo brought to the rally Woofie, an 8-year-old chihuahua he got from a rescue shelter in St. Louis. DeAngelo said Woofie came from an abusive breeder, leading to deformities in her legs.
He called the dog-breeding situation in the state "deplorable," adding he was "embarrassed to live in Missouri."
And DeAngelo also had harsh words for the governor.
"I voted for [Jay Nixon] thinking he was good with animals," DeAngelo said. "But then he just sat there and brokered some kind of ... backroom deal without [public involvement] because he's a coward to me -- because instead of doing what's right, he chose to make a compromise and that way he didn't have to face anybody on either side."
Jason Rosenbaum, a freelancer writer in St. Louis, covers state government and politics.