JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Tensions about Missouri's regulation of dog breeders prompted competing rallies Wednesday, just blocks apart, as people sought to sway Gov. Jay Nixon to sign or veto changes to a voter-approved law that stiffens rules for puppy producers.
State lawmakers approved legislation last week that replaced much of the voter-backed law. This week, the state Department of Agriculture brokered a deal for further revisions that was embraced by several state-based advocacy groups who had been on opposite sides of the debate. However, several national groups that helped finance the ballot measure said they did not support the proposal.
Proponents of the voter-approved law held signs near the governor's mansion urging Nixon to veto the legislation. They chanted for officials to "keep your paws off our laws." Nearby at the Capitol, dog breeders, farmers and others held their own rally with a barbecue while some brought their dogs. Joined by Republican lawmakers, they urged Nixon to sign the legislation approved by lawmakers last week.
Breeders said responsible businesses treat their animals well and have been tainted by the worst in the industry. Many have said they are likely to close shop without changes to the voter-approved law.
Carolyn Jurewicz, who operates Pea Ridge Kennel in Mansfield with her husband, questioned whether voters knew what they were approving. She held a sign supporting the measure approved by the Legislature.
"We can't work up to the standards that they're setting," said Jurewicz, 66. "And we've only got so much money to keep fighting these things."
Proponents of the voter-approved law said Missouri has too many shoddy breeders and said that they were standing up for the tougher rules because the animals could not speak for themselves. Some brought dogs while many carried signs referencing voters' support for the law.
Linda Austin, who helped gather and count signatures for the ballot measure, said she would not vote for lawmakers who approved the legislation nor Nixon if he signed it. She said she opposed changes to the law.
"The bottom line is the people have voted, period. We knew what we were voting for," said Austin, 63, of O'Fallon. Later, she added: "I am a citizen. I have a right to vote. And when all of us have voted for it, how dare they."
Nixon reported progress Wednesday toward an agreement that would repeal some of the dog-breeding restrictions approved by voters and give puppy producers extra time to comply with the new requirements. He said officials are trying to determine the order of what must happen to implement the compromise.
Nixon did not say whether he would sign or veto the bill approved by the Legislature but said there were issues the ballot measure did not adequately address and that changes would not repudiate the will of the electorate.
"Our goal is to try to make solid reformation of a sector of our agricultural economy that needs that while still working to allow them to do their business," he said.
Lawmakers who sponsored the dog legislation said Nixon should first sign their legislation before considering the alternative proposal he brokered.
Republican Sen. Mike Parson said in a letter to Nixon that approving the bill was "paramount in developing goodwill with lawmakers" and warned that a veto would be a "serious setback." The letter was signed by 70 lawmakers and 10 groups representing agriculture.
Voters in November approved a ballot measure called Proposition B that was backed by several animal advocacy groups. It passed with 52 percent of the statewide vote, as support in areas around Kansas City and St. Louis outweighed opposition in much of the rest of the state.
Critics of that law said it would force costly renovations to facilities and effectively limit how many dogs businesses could sell. Backers argued that Missouri's existing laws were too weak, allowing breeders to keep dogs in wire cages and exposed to excess heat and cold.
As with the legislation already approved by the Legislature, Nixon's plan would repeal a voter-approved maximum of 50 breeding dogs per business. It strikes a potential middle ground on the specifics of the living-space requirements and gives breeders more time to comply with the state's new rules.
The original law approved by voters, which is scheduled to take effect this November, requires an indoor floor space of at least 25 square feet for small dogs, 30 square feet for medium-size dogs and 35 square-feet for large dogs. The latest plan would eliminate the voter-approved indoor space requirements. However, Missouri's existing space requirements would be doubled for breeders by January 2012 and tripled by January 2016. Any dog-housing facilities constructed after last Friday would have to comply with the tripled space requirements immediately.
The voter-backed law requires one yearly veterinary exam with prompt treatment for illness or injuries. Lawmakers replaced that with two annual visual inspections, which would not need to be a hands-on exam. The plan brokered by Nixon's administration goes back to an annual exam and requires prompt treatment of a "serious illness or injury."
Associated Press writer Wes Duplantier contributed to this report.
Dog breeding is SB113
Online Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)