By Evan Heusinkveld, Executive Director
In the 2022 session, we’ve seen many of the same bills as in years past, but with a few tweaks. While tethering restrictions, sheltering requirements, and outright dog hunting bans were introduced in many Northeastern states, we’re now witnessing an expanding footprint of these efforts across a broader swath of the country. Part and parcel of this expansion is the appeal of these legislative efforts to conservative elected officials more traditionally aligned with the sporting community, including throughout the Southern states. Wildlife Contest Bans
The surge in wildlife contest bills that began in 2019-2020 continued into the 2021-2022 cycle. Notably, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress to ban wildlife contests on all public lands (HR 7398) and had an initial hearing in the House of Representatives. The Alliance and our supporters continue to monitor this legislation, but it does not appear likely to advance any further in the process.
At the state level, contest bills were once again introduced in New York and New Jersey, as they have been for several years now. Sportsmen have been very successful in amending these bills in previous sessions to exempt fox hunting, training, and trialing but even with these exemptions in place, we remain opposed and will continue to fight passage.
Dog Legislation Hunt/Training Bans:
In New Hampshire, a bill was introduced to ban the keeping of hares and rabbits to train hounds. The Alliance and our partners defeated this measure by a wide margin in committee and will continue to monitor for any regional spread of this legislation.
In Vermont, we saw a more traditional and direct attack with a bill to ban dog hunting and/or training for coyotes. This issue has proven a recurrent theme in Vermont and was heard in committee near the end of the session. Even with a major push from animal extremists, the Alliance and our partners were successful in protecting dog hunting through an aggressive campaign that forced the committee to heavily water down the bill before passage. In place of a ban, the bill as passed requires the Fish and Wildlife Department to create rules to reduce hunter-landowner conflicts and a low-cost permitting process for coyote hunting or training with dogs. The Alliance and our Vermont partners also successfully bottled up a bill that would have banned the use of dogs to hunt black bears. At the same time, however, anti-hunting groups persuaded the Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate 2/3 of the bear hound training season on Vermont’s Conte National Wildlife Refuge. The Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation will soon announce a lawsuit to reverse this decision.
In Colorado, the Alliance and our partners were successful in defeating a legislative proposal to ban mountain lion and bobcat hunting early in the session. Hundreds of sportsmen rallied to oppose this legislation in committee where it was soundly defeated after a four-hour hearing by a vote of 4-1. Although not a dog hunting bill per se, hounds and dog hunting were the obvious targets of this bill. The Alliance will remain watchful on this issue as animal extremists often push ballot initiatives when an issue is beaten back during the legislative process.
Tethering and Sheltering:
Among all legislative attacks on dog owners, hunters, and handlers, tethering/sheltering restrictions were the most numerous and widespread in 2021-22, with 11 states having introduced bills. A few of these had committee action and/or chamber votes in this session. These included bills to create or enhance tethering restrictions or sheltering requirements, and in some cases, both. Tethering bills appeared in all regions of the country while sheltering bills returned in the Northeast where the issue has been debated for several years.
On the negative side, a bill amending existing tethering and sheltering restrictions was signed by the Republican governor of Maryland in late April with similar legislation signed by the governor of Connecticut in May. Both bills exempt hunting and training activities for tethering restrictions so will not prove problematic for fox hunts. Each bill also amends current law to require “adequate shelter” whenever a weather advisory has been issued by a government authority.
On the positive side, the Alliance and our partners were able to derail a host of other tethering/shelter bills, including measures in Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, and West Virginia. We are gearing up for what is sure to be a fight in New York and New Jersey. In many cases, such bills receive Republican support and even Republican sponsorship or co-sponsorship in conservative states. The Alliance – along with our partners – is planning a nationwide educational effort beginning this fall in advance of next year’s session to assist our legislative allies better understand what is at stake with this type of legislation.
Our planned education campaign is critical because of the noted expansion of tethering and sheltering restrictions from the Northeast and far West to what are traditionally more sportsmen-friendly states. It’s also interesting to note that when HSUS and others push for restrictions, the initial bills are very broad and easier to defeat. Over time and multiple sessions, such bills become more nuanced and complex through the amendment process. Thus, these bills become much more difficult to defeat. As an example of this pattern, the Oklahoma tethering bill from this session – one of the “newer” states – fails to exempt hunting, trialing, or training activities from coverage. As the issue “ages” over multiple sessions, however, these exemptions are added, thereby reducing opposition, building consensus, and making the bills easier to pass. Short-circuiting this process is our goal.
Cost of Care:
This is a relatively new issue being pushed by animal extremists in the states. Put simply, this legislation charges an animal owner the cost of care for a seized animal while their case is ongoing and before they are found guilty of animal abuse. In other words, the owner is presumed guilty before innocent and charged accordingly. We were successful in beating back two such bills in Kentucky, but unfortunately, this legislation was passed in Maryland and signed by the governor. Although the Maryland bill adopted some procedural safeguards so that the costs will be returned to an owner found not guilty of animal abuse, this is dangerous precedent going forward.
The cost of care issue, especially after passage in Maryland, will likely be introduced in numerous state legislatures in next year’s session. In the meantime, we are watching for the issue in the sessions that remain in 2022.
Dog Breeder Bills:
Dog breeders continue to be under attack in state legislatures, with HSUS and others pushing legislation that will negatively impact sporting dog enthusiasts under the guise of “puppy mill” prohibitions. While the Alliance has been successful beating back legislation in Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas in recent years, we continue to monitor legislation in New York, California, and a few other states that remain in session in 2022.
In August, the Alliance and our partners were successful in derailing Massachusetts legislation to amend current law redefining commercial kennels to include sporting dog and hobby breeders. This bill, Senate File 1322, started as a measure to address issues with “doggy day care” facilities but was amended late in the session to broaden its scope to include sporting dog and other kennels. We activated sportsmen and women who were able to hold off passage before the legislature adjourned for the year. This issue is obviously one that must be watched in the 2023 session.
Visit Sportsmen’s Alliance website for updates and more information.