BRANFORD >> In what observers said was a largely partisan vote, Democrats at Wednesday night’s Representative Town Meeting put an end to further discussions about a proposal that would have banned the commercial sale of puppies, kittens and rabbits, but the ban’s chief proponent said she is not giving up the fight.
“This is not over by a long hot,” Lori Fogler-Nicholson said Friday.
The motion to take no action on the proposal for the remainder of this year’s legislative session was made by Majority Leader David Baker, D-2.
Baker said this week his primary reason for making the motion is because the General Assembly has already voted to create a special task force charged with studying the “puppy mill” industry, specifically the sourcing of pets from inhumane breeders.
“A state statute would pre-empt anything we do,” he said. “With two sessions left we couldn’t pass an ordinance anyway.”
Baker’s comments referring to the two remaining sessions are key to the way towns like Branford draft and enact ordinances. The RTM meets once every month except for August, so there are only the September and October meetings until the November town elections.
The slate is essentially wiped clean until the next session begins.
Baker said he and other local officials first learned of the formation of a state task force when it was mentioned at the July 2 Rules and Ordinances Committee meeting, an evening event that drew more than 200 supporters and opponents to the town’s senior centre.
The committee that night voted to form an ad-hoc subcommittee tasked with leading future public hearings. Wednesday’s RTM vote means that won’t happen until at least next year.
The proposal picked up steam last month as Annie Hornish, the Humane Society’s Connecticut director, met with Fogler and other members of the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter Commission to help them strategize ways to persuade the RTM to consider the ban, a move they agreed would be squarely aimed at hurting the “puppy mills” industry, but would also affect a local pet store, All Pets Club.
If adopted, Branford would be the first Connecticut municipality to enact such a ban.
Rules and Ordinances Committee member Adam Hansen said Friday his reason for voting to take no action on the proposal at Wednesday’s RTM session had more to do with timing than with the state task force.
“By taking no action, this will allow the issue to be the first item to appear on next term’s agenda and the next RTM will have a maximum of two years to work with this issue,” he said.
Fogler-Nicholson, who has been out of state this week, said the RTM decision caught her by surprise. She also noted state law does not keep cities and towns from enacting ordinances that would enhance or expand existing laws.
Fogler-Nicholson pointed to a legal opinion drafted by Hornish on behalf of the United States Humane Society. The opinion acknowledges that while Connecticut is one of 39 states that adheres to Dillon’s Rule — the agreement of state preeminence over local governments — it does not mean cities and towns cannot enact retail bans.
Hornish cited previous pre-emptive case law, including a recent instance where the state legislature “expressly pre-empted breed-specific legislation on the local level, providing that no municipality shall adopt breed-specific dog ordinances.”
Hornish also cited a 1995 decision, Bauer v. Waste Management of Connecticut, in which the state Supreme Court ruled that a “local ordinance is pre-empted by a state statute whenever the legislature had demonstrated an intent to occupy the entire field of regulation on the matter.
“Similarly, our research has not uncovered any authority to indicate the legislature has implicitly intended to occupy the entire field of regulation with respect to pet shops,” she said.
The formation of a state task force occurred after lawmakers took up a bill by state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, which would prohibit the sale of dogs or cats from substandard animal mills. The bill saw a volley of amendments, finally gaining passage only after lawmakers formed a task force charged with “studying the proliferation of dogs and cats sourced from inhumane origins and sold in Connecticut pet shops.”
RTM Minority Leader Frank Twohill, R-1, said Friday he opposed Baker’s motion because a “promise was made by the Rules and Ordinances Committee that everyone would get a chance to speak and that there would be a process. If you kill it now then they won’t have a chance to speak on it this term,” he said.
Hansen said his biggest concern in supporting Baker’s motion was that it might give the public the idea that the “RTM was just disregarding them.”
“I feel that the RTM is trying to do the exact opposite of that and are trying to be considerate of those people who have deep emotional ties to this issue,” he said, referring to the next RTM having two years to reconsider.
The emotions and overwhelming turnout of the July 2 meeting is still fresh for both Hansen and Baker. Hansen said he “personally has never seen a crowd like that show up for a meeting. To be honest I thought I was in the wrong building.”
Baker said he found it interesting that none of the 200-plus who attended the meeting showed up for Wednesday’s RTM session.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to view the RTM as the venue for talking; we’re there to do serious business,” Baker said.
He recalled budget hearings from April and May, all about “$100 million plus,” which few attended.
“People are concerned but they can go to Hartford once the task force meets,” he added.
The Shelter Commission was originally scheduled to meet Tuesday but that meeting has been canceled, according to the town clerk. A new date has not been posted.
Call Evan Lips at 203-916-3027. ___
Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at www.nhregister.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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