Year in Review: 2020 Was Record Legislative Year for AKC Government Relations

2021-01-12 | AKC Government Relations Department

AKC Government Relations had another record year in 2020, with the team tracking some 4,211 bills in 2020. This is an 83% increase over the 2,300 bills tracked in 2019.

The largest category of new bills tracked (716 total) were related to COVID-19, many of which had the potential to impact dog owners and ownership, dog services (such as pet food retailers or groomers) and AKC sports. Proposed legislation not directly related to COVID-19 on key issues such as animal cruelty, breeder regulation, pet sales, working dogs, animal control also increased by record levels to 3,495 bills – an increase of 51% over 2019.   In addition, the department monitored approximately 800 regulations at the state and federal level, providing official comments and constituent alerts as appropriate. The increase demonstrates the continued interest that lawmakers are taking in animal issues – and the successes achieved again show the tremendous value in state federations, local clubs, and breeders partnering together and with the AKC to advocate for dogs in their local communities. 

2020 Legislative Successes

AKC Government Relations, along with local federations and dog clubs, achieved dozens of successes across the country, amending or pushing back against harmful proposals and supporting bills of benefit to dogs and dog owners.  Many of these successes were the direct result of dog owners communicating with their lawmakers and providing them with the facts, science, and expertise needed to truly educate them on these important issues.  These successes prove that when constituents like you get actively involved, you can make a major impact on policy that affects you! 

One example is Washington Senate Bill 6300, which sought to change the definitions of animal cruelty.  The language used was broad and open to multiple interpretations, making it difficult to enforce. In addition, the language could have also been used to subject responsible dog owners to unreasonable intrusions and accusations of abuse and neglect, even when engaging in normal, accepted, everyday humane and safe activities with dogs.  AKC, sportsmen, veterinarians, and dog owners worked to educate lawmakers of the many unintended consequences.  This work resulted in a reasonable law signed by the governor that strengthened cruelty laws without the negative impact to dogs and responsible owners. 

Massachusetts House Bill 1822, a measure designed to address concerns about animal hoarding and cruelty, would have essentially banned all outdoor kennels. AKC GR worked with local breeders, sportsmen, and police K9 handlers to educate and advocate for changes that recognize the importance of responsible kenneling practices and acclimatization. Thanks to these efforts, the language prohibiting outdoor kennels was removed. 

This was one of many bills introduced this year across the country to regulate dogs kept outdoors. Many of these bills were introduced as the result of specific concerns in communities where dogs had been harmed when left outside in inclement weather in violation of negligence and cruelty laws.  AKC and constituents worked to improve enforcement of existing laws, while preventing the passage of counterproductive new approaches. In New York and Michigan, overly restrictive bills were held in committee.  In Maryland, AKC GR staff, the state federation, and local club members and sportsmen worked together to amend HB 406 and SB 627 to exempt activities such as hunting, sledding, and training from counterproductive temperature restrictions, Although the Maryland bills did not ultimately pass, the bills have been reintroduced for the 2021 session with these exemptions. 

These are just a few of the many successes achieved throughout the United States throughout 2020.  Visit the AKC Legislative Action Center to view a full list

Federal Overview:

The political stalemate in Congress impacted canine and other legislative initiatives in 2020.   AKC GR focused on several key legislative/regulatory issues at the federal level including COVID-19 protections, healthy dog importation issues, service dog issues, USDA breeder licensing, and breed-specific legislation. 

COVID-19 Advocacy – AKC advocated at the federal as well as state level to limit legal liability for clubs and events related to COVID-19 transmission when events were held in compliance with CDC and other jurisdictional health and safety recommendations.  AKC GR worked with members of Congress and staff on these issues, along with a number of other not-for-profit groups sharing similar concerns about their events.

In addition, AKC advocated for financial protections for non-political not-for-profit organizations [primarily 501(c)(7) (clubs) and 501 (c)(4) organizations] harmed by the pandemic. AKC also worked with the pet industry to ensure that pet supply businesses be included in essential businesses.  This helped prevent a shortage of food, veterinary or other crucial pet supplies.  Information about these initiatives is available on the AKC Legislative Action Center COVID-19
Resources and Legal Liability key issues pages.  

Breeder Regulations – AKC GR continues a very strong emphasis on educating and advocating for responsible dog ownership and breeding, and federal regulations that respect and encourage such activities. At the federal level, these issues are primarily overseen through the Animal Welfare Act, which is administered by the USDA. AKC was pleased that after two years of effort, new breeder licensing requirements finalized by USDA incorporated many recommendations and comments provided by AKC.  AKC GR was also active in educating about problematic measures that could harm small hobby breeders and breeders involved in responsible breed rescue. Key measures opposed as introduced included HR 2442/S 4757, HR 5715, HR 4211, and HR 1002 among others.  None of these bills advanced.

Pet Importation – The AKC is very concerned about increasing numbers of dogs being imported into the United States with fraudulent or invalid health records. This has resulted in increased reported incidents of imported dogs bringing contagious diseases including rabies, distemper, canine influenza, brucellosis, and many others into the United States. With an estimated one million dogs imported into the United States every year, fraud and lax health checks represent a significant threat to public, pet, and livestock health. AKC worked with members of congress and allied organizations including NAIA and AVMA to educate about and assure introduction of the Healthy Dog Importation Act (HR 6921) to require that all dogs entering the United States are healthy, fully vaccinated with a health certificate from an accredited veterinary authority in the country of origin, and that each dog is microchipped so individual health records can be verified upon arrival in the country.  For more information, visit AKC GR’s key issues page www.akcgr.org/pet-import.

Service Dogs – Issues relating to access and use of properly-trained service dogs were a key issue for AKC GR in 2020 as well. In early December, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced final revisions to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulations pertaining to the transportation of service animals. The final rule accords with recommendations and comments made by AKC on the issue over the previous 2 years.  AKC was pleased that the rule change now defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. 

The changes also clarify that emotional support animals (ESAs), comfort animals, companionship animals, animals being trained to be service animals, and species other than dogs are not considered to be “service animals”.  Instead, airlines may recognize and accommodate ESAs as pets.  The DOT rules also clarify that airlines are prohibited from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.  Airlines may continue to assess each animal individually to determine whether it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. AKC also supported several federal measures to improve access and training for veterans in need of PTSD (psychiatric service dogs).  For more information visit AKC’s new key issue page at www.akcgr.org/servicedogs.

Breed-Specific Regulations – Finally, for more than a decade, AKC GR has educated about and advocated for the removal of breed-specific bans on military bases.  H.R. 7617 (Fiscal 2021 Defense of Department (DoD) Appropriations) contains language to require the Veterinary Service of the DoD to establish a standardized, non-breed-specific policy to regulate dangerous dogs in military communities. AKC has long advocated for these changes to military housing policy. Implementing regulations would emphasize non-breed specific dangerous dog behavior and chronically irresponsible owners; enforcement of animal control regulations such as leash laws/stray animal control policies; promotion and communication of resources for spay/neuter and investment in community educational initiatives. 

State and Local Legislation Overview:

It was a busy year at the state and local level as well, with 47 state legislatures and thousands of county and municipal governments meeting across the United States.  View our charts to see the variety of issues AKC monitored over the past year. 

Service/Working Dogs – Issues related to service and working dogs continue to be of concern. This was the second most prominent topic among the state bills we monitored in 2020.  These bills included proposals for creating penalties for misrepresentation of service animals and task forces to examine  issues associated with service dogs in the community.

Civil and social pressures contributed to the emergence of new proposals and regulations in the second half of 2020 regarding the use of police K9s.  In Massachusetts, bills were introduced that grossly misrepresented the use and purpose of police working dogs.   AKC GR staff partnered with police K9 officers to educate lawmakers and work to amend these bills.  The final version included amendments that protect the appropriate use of properly trained working dogs. 

Cruelty – As in previous sessions, the issue of animal cruelty was again the most prominent animal concern brought forward in state legislatures.  Bills referenced as “cruelty” can comprise a variety of proposed regulations including breeder licensing or limits, ownership limits, animal husbandry issues including tail docking or bark softening, kennel engineering, and arbitrary care requirements.   

In 2020, many of these bills sought to address the issue of dogs kept outside in what was deemed to be unsafe weather conditions, as mentioned above. Other bills sought to redefine the term “cruelty”. This includes Iowa Senate File 737, which as introduced could have impacted ear cropping and tail docking, as well as choice regarding veterinary care of pets.  AKC and clubs worked with the sponsor and key legislators to amend most of the problematic provisions.  While some unclear provisions remained in the final version, the grassroots efforts ensured more protections for dog owners were included. 

Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) – As in past sessions, Missouri and Michigan introduced legislation to prevent localities from enacting breed-specific laws.  Unfortunately, these laws did not ultimately pass despite significant support, but they both advanced further than they have in any previous year – setting up the opportunity to build on this support in 2021, when the bills will be reintroduced. 

Breed-specific laws continue to be an issue at the local level.  Most notably, residents in Denver, Colorado, voted overwhelmingly in November to replace their 30-year breed ban with special breed-specific licensing and other requirements.  While still restrictive, this was an important first step in finally restoring the rights of responsible dog owners in the city.  As a result of this vote, the neighboring city of Aurora is now considering revisions to its breed-specific laws, and it is hopeful this trend will continue to other localities as well. 

It’s evident, however, that education and advocacy are still needed about BSL. In Barrow County, Georgia, for example, the county manager recommended the designation of 12-15 breeds as inherently dangerous.  AKC GR and local dog owners educated the county on the many problems with BSL, and the recommendation was withdrawn. The same was true in Detroit, Michigan, where the city withdrew their proposal to regulate dogs based on its size, and replaced it with numerous new dangerous dog laws.

To assist lawmakers – and local dog owners – in communicating on breed-specific legislation and dangerous dog laws, AKC GR updated our key issue page in the Legislative Action Center.  The updated page has a new policy analysis with model legislation, talking points, and other resources to help educate on the problems with BSL and provide more effective solutions.  To view the resources, visit www.akcgr.org/bsl  

Retail – Animal rights activists continue to seek to limit pet choice and consumer protection by limiting pet stores to only sell or showcase animals from shelters or rescues and/or further regulate stores.  This includes state bills in Wisconsin, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York – as well as numerous municipalities. 

Where retail bans have already been enacted, an emerging trend is to seek to prevent rescues from being affiliated in any way with a breeder.  AKC has expressed concerns with this trend, as it rejects the invaluable role breeders and breed clubs have in rescue and the care of rescue dogs.  In California, AKC was successful in getting an amendment to AB 2152 to instead state that the rescues could not breed rescue dogs.  The City of Chicago has also proposed language to limit rescues sourcing to pet stores, and AKC continues to work to address concerns. 

The issue of limiting pet choice continues to be prominent on both the state and local levels.  In 2020, AKC GR created a new key issue page in the Legislative Action Center to provide more information, such as an issue analysis, talking points, model legislation and other resources for clubs, policy makers and the public. To view the resources, visit www.akgr.org/petchoice

Other Local Issues – The most prominent concern among constituents at the county and local level was the regulation of breeders.  Breeder regulations comprised more than 25 percent of the total local proposals tracked by AKC GR in 2020.  Success in fighting arbitrary, counterproductive proposals have been the direct result of local clubs, breeders, and federations being willing to work with AKC GR to communicate and educate lawmakers.  In many cases, GR only learns about the proposals when contacted by local dog owners in the communities. 

An example is Burke County, North Carolina, where a local fancier contacted AKC GR after learning about proposed breeder permits.  GR has worked with local breeders and sportsmen to communicate concerns, and in December, the county agreed to table the permits and work with AKC on other alternatives.  The same is true in Desert Hot Springs, California, which currently has a breeder ban.  Local clubs and dog owners are working with the city to address this issue, while ensuring that breeder regulations are not too overbearing. 

COVID-19 and Canine Legislation:

AKC GR worked throughout 2020 to help dog owners and breeders address legislative issues during the pandemic. The GR team remains active in tracking COVID-19 policy issues impacting AKC and dog owners throughout the pandemic. This ranges from advocacy to ensure that dog owners continue to be able to access pet supplies and essential services and providing information on how AKC can stay open during the pandemic; to liability information related to the holding of events, and advocacy for targeted liability limits related to virus transmission for events in compliance with recognized health and safety guidelines. The AKC Legislative Action Center’s COVID-19 Resources Page (www.akcgr.org/covid19) provides the latest information on state regulations impacting dog owners, events, and businesses. The resources page also includes timely blogs and tips on what club members and dog owners can do from home to continue being effective advocates.

COVID-19 Liability – GR is continuing to advocate for federal and state laws to limit liability for clubs and events related to COVID-19 transmission when events are held in compliance with CDC and other jurisdictional health and safety recommendations.  Information about these efforts, the status of various proposals, a sample letter for lawmakers, and other information on how clubs/individuals can get involved is available on the AKC Legislative Action Center COVID-19 Liability key issue page at www.akcgr.org/covidliability.

Looking Ahead:

In the coming year, all 50 state legislatures will be in session, and there will be many new legislators to educate. Within legislatures, there will significant changes in leadership, party majority status and committee leadership.  In addition, legislatures are changing protocols for in-person meetings and hearings as the pandemic continues.  Now is the time to reach out to legislators to introduce yourself and your club.  

Many of the successes and advances made in 2020 were the result of local advocates reaching out directly to their legislators as constituents. AKC GR was pleased to partner with local clubs and dog owners to provide assistance and resources to help advocate on behalf of dogs and responsible ownership and breeding. Developing ongoing relationships with lawmakers and working to educate them about how canine legislation impacts their constituents and community are essential and effective actions that will continue to be key in fighting canine legislation in 2021. 

Finally,  AKC GR is pleased to offer extensive new resources for you in 2021. In 2020, AKC GR developed more than 7 new one-stop policy-based key issues pages in the AKC Legislative Action Center on the following topics:  COVID-19 ResourcesCOVID-19 Civil Liability Limit Legislation, Service Dogs, Pet Imports: Protecting Pet & Public Health, Detection Dogs, Dogs in Vehicles: Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Pet Choice/Pet Store Restrictions.    

Five existing pages also received significant overhauls: Breeder Regulations and Restrictions, Breed-Specific/Dangerous Dog Laws, Consumer Protection/”Puppy Lemon Laws”, Legal Status of Animals, Limit Laws. Together this accounts for 25 newly published stand-alone policy resources for constituents, lawmakers and the general public on a wide variety of helpful topics.  Be sure to visit the AKC Legislative Action Center (www.akcgr.org) often as new resources continue to be added and updated.  All of these materials, as well as existing resources are designed to make it easy for you to get involved to protect your dogs and your rights. 

The AKC GR team is here to help you every step of the way. Reach out to AKC Government Relations at doglaw@akc.org if you learn of an issue or need assistance on fighting canine legislation in your community.  AKC GR will continue to work with you to fight for purebred dogs and responsible dog ownership throughout the country.

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