MACo Defends County Animal Shelters, Community Needs

MACo Policy Analyst, Natasha Mehu, testified in opposition of HB 494, Agriculture – Animal Shelters – Uniform Standards of Operation and Care (Animal Shelters Standards Act of 2016), to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 24, 2016.

While MACo appreciated the efforts of the sponsors and stakeholders to try and resolve certain issues with the bill, counties remained concerned with the onerous standards and unfunded mandates targeted only the portion of animal shelters run by local governments.

From the MACo testimony,

HB 494 endeavors to set uniform standards of operation and care, however it only applies to a portion of the animal shelter community – shelters that are either operated by or under contract with local governments. These shelters serve an important role protecting the health and safety of animals and the local communities.

Counties are concerned the limited application of the bill would discourage shelters from contracting with counties to provide these critical services.

The bill sets numerous standards for the operation of shelters without providing funding for implementation. This includes extensive requirements for record-keeping and reporting, and for the matching of lost animals.

The bill also restricts the ability for a shelter to loan animal-capture traps. These mandates and restrictions create hardships on a shelter’s ability to make shelter-specific decisions.

The criminal penalty provisions are excessive. As there is no intent component, an individual acting in good faith who violates the euthanasia provision would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a $2,500 fine. This sort of violation is more in line with a professional disciplinary proceeding than a criminal penalty.

The bill allows anyone to bring civil action for money damages or to enjoin a violation of this title. This subjects local governments to unnecessary, costly, and frivolous lawsuits.

Instead of resources being spent on the operation of shelters and the care of animals, they would be spent defending against claims. As HB 494 excuses the Department of Agriculture from enforcing the requirements of the subtitle, the bill has no enforcement mechanism except for broad civil actions from private individuals.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.