A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Apr 30, 2014

Don't Judge a Law by its Title

Courtesy Google images
In my capacity as both your spcaLA President and as chair of the State Humane Association of California legislative committee, it has been my responsibility to draft, study, support, oppose, testify, and ponder new or amended legislation affecting the welfare of animals. As many of you know it can be a very taxing, confrontational and contentious business. That said, when all involved behave professionally, with integrity and without personal animus – a lot gets accomplished and our constituency benefits. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and it is very disappointing to see members of our animal welfare community conduct themselves in a sub-standard manner.

It is common for  exogenous parties, out of state organizations, lobbyists, and public relations operatives with no knowledge of local laws or the industry to place bills with attractive and important captions before the legislators and the public, which, if read carefully, actually say something else or accomplish nothing. They award plaques, form little clubs and flatter the elected officials, which, might be tolerated if Californians and our animals benefited from these efforts. It is, however, more common that the passage of a title is all we get and our pets get nothing. Frequently, it is ONLY the headline that is necessary for these operatives to spin an agenda and try to claim a hero's reward when passed.

Most people don't or should not have to read the laws carefully, but should be able to rely on the representations made by their elected officials and those advocates they assume are trustworthy and allow for the honest difference of opinion. It is easy to say a bill is lifesaving for cats or provides funding to shelters. It is harder to study the language and see how that is not so and that the funding may be illusory. Most people want to believe the spin but also resent when they have fallen for it. A good example was the attempt to pass a mandatory spay/neuter bill a few years ago to reduce pet overpopulation. Sounds good - right? When the text included a clause that permitted every household to have one litter it became necessary to oppose the bill. Not so good. Many thought we were insane to oppose the bill because they were unaware of what the language actually said.

We must not play the role of pawn in these games or election campaign strategy. Let us resolve not to support bills where the title promises protections that the text does not deliver or that are motivated by intentions contrary to the best interests of California and its residents.

It is incumbent upon our elected officials to regulate meaningfully. They must understand what is relevant and necessary for us and not be fooled by those who would misuse the legislative process to promote an agenda that is not commensurate with those interests or misuse the process themselves. Let us resolve to let these legislators know that we will read the drafts, speak our minds, and expect them to be mindful that their written words match their verbal assurances.

   “Laws, like the spider’s web, can catch the fly and let the hawk go free.”      Spanish Proverb

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