When California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 last November, banning the extreme confinement of animals on industrial factory farms, they sent the message loud and clear that all animals deserve humane treatment -- including animals raised for food.
Eight months later, that vote is having ripple effects around the country, as retailers adopt corporate policies to curb factory farm abuses, and other states consider similar reforms. (Maine just passed a law becoming the sixth state to phase out confinement practices.) But it is having a much more home-grown effect in California, where state lawmakers have taken notice of the broad and deep support for animal welfare policies across the California electorate.
In an era of budget crises and partisanship, animal protection can be one of the only issues most lawmakers agree on. Prop 2, for example, won a majority of votes in 47 of 58 counties, appealing to core groups in urban and rural regions, Democratic and Republican strongholds, and in the heart of agriculture country. More than 8.2 million people checked the box for "yes"--more than any other citizen's initiative in history--and the final vote was a landslide 63.5 to 36.5 percent.
As Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) said, Prop 2 was "the equivalent of the earthquake that shook the legislature." Florez reorganized the Senate Agriculture Committee to become the Senate Food & Agriculture Committee, which is placing greater emphasis on food safety, animal welfare, and sustainability. Florez added, "Big Ag has always ruled, and they don't lose much. I want to take advantage of Prop 2's momentum and strike a balance."
Midway through the 2009 legislative session, that momentum has led to eleven animal protection bills on a wide range of issues already having passed either the Assembly or the Senate and now making their way through the other chamber. Another has already been enacted into law. Here's some of what California lawmakers have achieved for animals so far this session:
- Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), a tremendous champion for animals who in 2007 successfully carried the bill banning the use of toxic lead ammo in California condor habitat, this year has introduced a package of three bills to crack down on puppy mills, dogfighting, and animal cruelty. A.B. 241 limits the number of dogs (and cats) who can be confined in large-scale production facilities, where they receive no exercise, socialization, or human interaction, and it passed the Assembly by a vote of 60 to 14. Demonstrating broad and bipartisan support, two Republicans, Assemblymen Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) and Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia), both rose to speak passionately in favor of the bill on the Assembly floor. Another bill by Nava, A.B. 242, strengthens the penalty for dogfighting spectators, the people who fuel this criminal industry with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and passed the Assembly unanimously. And A.B. 243, which prohibits convicted animal abusers from owning more animals in the future, passed the Assembly by a vote of 65 to 12.
- Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) has introduced another bill to further help law enforcement crack down on dogfighters. S.B. 318 would allow the seizure and forfeiture of assets acquired from dogfighting. It has passed the Senate by a vote of 36 to 2.
- Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) is championing two bills: A.B. 1437, which bans the sale of eggs from caged hens, passed the Assembly by a vote of 65 to 12, and has just this week passed the Senate Food & Agriculture Committee. And A.B. 708 would increase the penalties for illegal poaching of wildlife. It passed the Assembly unanimously, and will help provide a greater deterrent to poachers in a state where game wardens are few and miles of roads and trails are many.
- Assemblyman Smyth introduced A.B. 233 to encourage shelter pet adoption by giving a tax break to adopters. That bill has not been released from the Assembly Appropriations Committee, but Smyth has another measure that has already passed both chambers and been adopted: A.C.R. 19 officially recognizes Spay Day USA and encourages the spaying and neutering of pets in California.
- On farm animal issues, Senator Florez has advanced S.B. 135, which would ban the tail docking of dairy cows. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to 12, setting the stage for ending this painful and unnecessary mutilation in the nation's top dairy state. S.B. 135 will be heard next in the Assembly Public Safety Committee next Tuesday.
These bills still have a ways to go and a Governor's signature to earn. But animal protection is on the political map in the Golden State. Lawmakers are siding with pets, wildlife, and farm animals by wide margins, and reflecting the mainstream values of Californians who want strong laws to stop cruelty and abuse. Even so, there are setbacks along the way, as California animal shelters are very likely to feel the pain of the current unprecedented budget crisis.
If you live in California, I hope you will check out the roster of animal protection bills, and ask your lawmakers and Governor Schwarzenegger to support them. I also hope you will help us continue this momentum by becoming a member of the Humane Society Legislative Fund -- please join with us to build a powerful political force for California's animals.