During the first six months of 2014, state-level lawmakers were quite busy in advancing legislation that will inevitably impact pet stores within their jurisdiction.
When it comes to legislation affecting the pet industry, there really is no downtime. Local governments meet throughout the year, and the contentious environment in Washington has resulted in several significant votes held during traditional holiday periods. Federal agencies and regulatory bodies work year-round, holding hearings and issuing rulings that can have a profound impact on your business.
Even so, the midpoint of the year represents a good time to look back at some of the state-level bills that we at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) have been working on in 2014. More than two-thirds of state legislatures have adjourned for the year at this point, with some scheduled to return for short sessions before the end of the year. A review of the hundreds of pieces of legislation we’ve tracked this year shows some clear trends:
The Pet Industry as Cash Cow
When an industry is as large as ours, it should come as no surprise that elected officials view us as a ready source of revenue. We have seen almost 150 bills that would impose new fees and taxes on aspects of the pet industry this year. Surcharges on pet food were proposed in Virginia and implemented (through rulemaking) in Maryland. Bills creating or increasing licensing fees for breeders and pet dealers were proposed in a dozen states. The funds generated from these new fees are often earmarked for animal control, placing the costs of these programs on the industry and, by extension, our customers.
However, there have also been a few efforts to reduce the burden on businesses within the pet sector. In Rhode Island, PIJAC continues to support legislation that would exempt groomers and other pet-service providers from the state’s sales tax. A similar exemption is up for renewal in New York City.
You’re Doing It Wrong
No matter how long you’ve been in business, or how specific your field of expertise is, many elected officials are only too ready to step in and tell you how you should be doing things. We’ve seen more than 200 pieces of legislation introduced this year that would impose new restrictions and standards on existing licensees, like pet dealers. A favorite target this year has been groomers; three states are considering new certification regimes for these pet professionals.
Ideally, legislators can be convinced of the unintended consequences of their efforts before they become law. Unfortunately, sometimes they need to see those effects before they can be persuaded to take steps to correct them. For example, this year we were pleased to work with the American Federation of Aviculture to re-exempt birds from an overreaching health-certification requirement that was passed last year in New Hampshire.
Stop in the Name of the Law
Then, there are the times when unintended consequences can be really scary. While no one in the pet industry condones animal abuse or cruelty, we’ve noticed a troubling trend in government action in this area. Among the more than 65 bills proposing state registries of convicted animal abusers, there were a handful that sought to impose enforcement duties on pet dealers, breeders and shelters, with penalties for failure to do so. This would force employees and volunteers to confront anyone on the registry at the point of sale—a dangerous proposition at best.
PIJAC has been working to educate lawmakers across the country about the safety concerns caused by this arrangement. Alternatives include provisions for notification of the appropriate authorities upon identification and broader education campaigns that seek to discourage animal abusers from attempting a purchase in the first place.
The Big-Ban Theory
This year has been especially busy in terms of attempts to ban or significantly curtail the sale of dogs and cats—and all animals, in some cases—in pet stores. At the state level, PIJAC worked to prevent a statewide sales ban in Connecticut through a year-long task force process. A last-minute ban amendment in Illinois was defeated by the concerted effort of storeowners and industry groups.
At the local and county level, we continue to see activists working to pass bans with an emphasis on jurisdictions without any stores in operation. This has allowed them to build up a significant number of victories, which are then used to pressure nearby municipalities to follow suit. With a number of pending legal challenges and a steady stream of new ordinances being proposed, this issue is not going away any time soon.
Industry veterans know that many of these issues crop up again and again; whether a bill dies in committee or is voted down on the Senate floor, it can just easily return for consideration in the future. You and your business can’t afford to grow complacent. Keep an eye on PIJAC’s PetAlerts and Issue Updates for information on legislative threats and opportunities, and take advantage of our Engage system to quickly and easily communicate with your elected officials.
Mike Bober is vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For details on any of the issues discussed here or more information on how to get involved, visit pijac.org/government-affairs.