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API, Legislation, and You

Published 12/15/04
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 35 Number 4, Winter 2004

Not long ago, an animal advocate contacted API for advice. Like many people, the caller was deeply troubled by the mistreatment of animals in circuses, and wanted to take action. She wasn’t exactly sure what she could do, but was considering trying to get her home state to pass a law restricting the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows.

Such a law would be a boon for animals in circuses, on whom life "on the road" takes a heavy toll. For thousands of hours a year, over long distances, they may be chained in vehicles that lack climate control, left to stand in their own waste. Even when the animals are not in transit, they are forced to live in grim conditions, endure cruel training methods, and perform unnatural tricks all for the sake of entertainment.

Many people mistakenly assume that legal safeguards are in place to protect “performing” animals. But while some regulatory protections do exist, these regulations are neither sufficiently specific nor adequately enforced. State-level laws could go a long way in making life better for captive wild animals used in entertainment.

API worked with the caller to help demystify the legislative process, and informed her about how she could use this process to help protect animals. Offering such assistance is something API does nearly every day. When appropriate, we will also work with advocates to pursue legislation in their state or community. API wants to partner with you if there is an animal protection issue that moves you to act!

Legislative advocacy is a key tool that API uses to further our mission of ending animal abuse and exploitation. We’ve written this article to let members know about the multiple ways that API works within the legislative system, and how you, too, can get involved in the critical job of using the law to benefit animals.

API Partners with Lawmakers

API works in conjunction with federal, state, and local policymakers to help animals in a variety of ways. Our collaborative efforts with legislators include strengthening existing animal protection measures, establishing new laws, and defeating anti-animal measures. API brings to the table extensive experience drafting legislation, mobilizing grassroots efforts, lobbying, testifying at hearings, and passing bills on a variety of animal issues.

Model legislation is the starting point for many of API’s efforts in the legislative arena. API has produced model language for a myriad of issues, including the keeping of exotic animals as “pets,” the regulation of pet shops, the feeding of wildlife, the sale of unweaned birds, the display of wild and exotic animals, and restrictions on the use of cruel body-gripping traps. We then tailor our model legislation to create measures that address the unique needs of a particular state or locality.

We are also are able to draft legislation that may not be covered by our model laws. Through research and our experience working with similar bills throughout the legislative process, we can provide perspective about what language has been effective in the past and which approach is most likely to have an impact in future efforts.

Lobbying is another of API’s strong suits. We meet with legislators and aides to explain the need for particular a bill, to answer questions about the bill’s language and enforceability, and to discuss problems with the current regulatory framework. We then follow the bill’s progress and attend hearings to provide persuasive and explanatory testimony. API’s lobbying network includes experts who can provide vital testimony when an animal protection issue calls for specialized explanations. In addition, we also write and telephone legislators who will vote on the bill.

API Partners with Activists

While API successfully works with legislators on animal protection legislation, our success is due in no small measure to the efforts of grassroots supporters like you. Citizen lobbying efforts can be crucial in ensuring the passage or defeat of a particular bill. While legislators need to hear from organizations such as API, a flood of calls and letters from constituents often is equally as powerful in shaping their decisions.

Surprisingly few citizens take the time to communicate with their elected officials, so if you participate in the political process you might very well be able to influence the outcome of policy decisions. Because only a fraction of the general population is politically active, politicians can consider a call, letter, or fax from one person as representative of the view of as many as 100 people!

API invites you to become our partner in action. We can keep you informed of pending legislative issues through our website, emailed Action Alerts, and Animal Issues magazine. We urge you to attend hearings where legislation is being considered, to contact your elected officials, to write Letters to the Editor of your local newspaper, and to spread the word about legislative issues to your friends and family.

If you are not already receiving emailed Action Alerts from us, please join our team. It’s easy!

In addition, if you know someone who has expertise as a biologist, veterinarian, doctor, or law enforcement official, let API know. We rely on experts to provide vital testimony on the legislation. With your help, we can build a brighter future for the animals.

API’s Success Stories

Over the years API, has had great success using the legislative process to help animals. Here is a sampling of some of our victories for this 2003/2004 legislative session.

Proactive Animal Protections

In conjunction with the Avian Welfare Coalition and California State Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, API sponsored AB 202, which requires that parrots be weaned (able to eat on their own) before their release from a pet store, swap meet, or other retail outlet. Despite strong opposition from the pet industry, this precedent-setting law was passed and went into effect on September 1, 2004.

In the “pet” trade, young, unweaned birds are routinely removed from their parents at or shortly after hatching to be artificially reared by humans. When an inexperienced individual attempts to hand-feed a baby parrot, tragic results may ensue, including emotional and developmental deficiencies, infections, burned or punctured stomachs, malnutrition, or death.

The new law — the first of its kind in the nation — protects young parrots and shields consumers from the emotional and financial costs of caring for a pet who has been sold at too young an age. The law is also consistent with existing laws that prohibit the sale of unweaned dogs and cats.

Defending Existing Protections

Last June, legislation designed to weaken existing trapping license requirements for nuisance wildlife control operators (WCOs) failed to pass the California Legislature.

API worked tirelessly to defeat AB 1926, a bill that would have exempted “pest” control operators from existing regulations that require them to obtain a Department of Fish & Game trapping license when providing trapping services for profit. AB 1926 would have undone 2002 legislation backed by API and other animal advocacy organizations requiring that California WCOs obtain a license and pass a competency exam and prohibiting the sale of furs taken by persons providing trapping services for a profit, thereby reducing economic incentive for lethal control methods.

API staff lobbied legislators, testified at the public hearing, and urged our members and other organizations to contact their legislators to oppose this bill. We continue to work on implementing regulations overseeing the wildlife control industry in California.

Local-Level Legislation

In the last several years, a rash of high-profile incidents involving exotic animals kept as “pets” has brought the issue into the public eye.

Partially as a result of such incidents, several exotic “pet” ordinances banning the private possession of wild animals, including exotic cats, bears, wolves, nonhuman primates, alligators, and venomous reptiles, were recently passed at the local level across the country. Some of the ordinances API helped pass this year are in Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Surry, Davidson, and Wilkes Counties, North Carolina.

In December 2003, a tragedy took place in Wilkes County, North Carolina, when a 10-year-old boy was killed by his aunt’s 400-pound “pet” tiger. After reading about this terrible incident, API contacted the County Counsel and assisted in drafting and advising on the ordinance, which passed unanimously on April 20, 2004 — just 4 months after the attack occurred.

State Legislative Wrap-Up

The 2004 legislative session saw new laws passed at state capitols all across the country.

These laws could not have been passed without the assistance of individuals — advocates and humane-minded people just like you — who wrote letters, made telephone calls, and sent emails encouraging state Representatives and Senators to pass important legislation benefiting animals. The following is a brief end-of-session synopsis of the legislation that has been either ratified or defeated.

Companion Animals

In his effort to solve the state budget crisis, California Governor Schwarzenegger attempted to slash existing laws that protect animals at animal shelters. The statutes, known collectively as the “Hayden Law,” include measures requiring that animal shelters hold impounded animals for a minimum of six days, requiring that shelters seek veterinary care for animals, and requiring that those convicted of animal cruelty pay for the costs of the animal victims’ care while the trial is pending. The Governor’s “behind closed doors” repeal failed due to the strong outcry by animal advocates and the public at large.

Nebraska enacted a bill that further defines “pet shop” to include all retailers that sell reptiles, amphibians, fish, rabbits, and rodents, in addition to retailers whose primary business is selling companion animals and pet supplies.

Exotic Animals

In California, a bill was enacted to prohibit the declawing of exotic cats, such as tigers and lions. Declawing leaves the cats defenseless, results in pain (which can be chronic), and can cause the cats to exhibit behavioral problems.

Colorado enacted a bill that creates regulations governing wildlife sanctuaries, including establishing a licensing requirement and requiring that each sanctuary retain a veterinarian. The bill also authorizes the wildlife commission to regulate wildlife sanctuaries. Because wild animals do not adjust well to captivity, they often end up abandoned or relinquished. This bill seeks to ensure that these animals receive appropriate care in a safe place.

Minnesota now prohibits future possession of dangerous wild animals — including lions, tigers, cougars, bears, and nonhuman primates — as “pets.” Those who currently possess dangerous wild animals in the state will be permitted to keep the animals, provided that they register with local animal control.

Oklahoma passed legislation that enhances existing laws by restricting the sale of “native cats” and bears by and to individuals licensed as commercial wildlife breeders. In addition, this bill requires the annual renewal of commercial wildlife breeders’ licenses.

Louisiana prohibited hunting at a canned hunt facility any animal who had previously been kept in a zoo or circus.

Farmed Animals

California enacted SB 1520, a bill that would phase in a ban on the force feeding of ducks and geese in the production of foie gras. The measure will also outlaw the sale of foie gras in the state starting in 2012.


As mentioned earlier in this article (see “Defending Existing Protections”), API successfully fought AB 1926, California legislation that was designed to weaken trapping license requirements for nuisance wildlife control operators.

In addition, API worked diligently to defeat two California bills that would have expanded lethal control of wild rabbits. Existing law allows a landowner or tenant to kill cottontail or brush rabbits when the animals damage crops or forage. These bills would have also expanded existing law to allow rabbits to be killed for damaging landscaping. While API helped defeat these two harmful bills, this is only a partial victory, as the bills’ proponents obtained an Attorney General opinion that ultimately places the rabbits in jeopardy. We will continue to monitor the situation, and keep members apprised of any developments.

Existing California law prohibits the commercial import or sale of certain rare animals, including kangaroos. This past legislative session, the sporting wear and fashion industries introduced three bills to eliminate this longstanding protection for kangaroos and to allow their skins to be used in products such as sneakers. These bills were defeated after staunch opposition by animal advocates.

Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Idaho all rejected resolutions that would have incorporated into the state Constitution a declaration that the freedom to hunt, fish and trap is “forever preserved.” Unfortunately, Louisiana did pass such a resolution.

Hawaii defeated a bill that would have rolled back existing animal protections by allowing federal governmental agencies to engage in the aerial gunning of animals. Aerial gunning is cruel, dangerous, and unnecessary, as there are many humane methods of managing wildlife populations.

A proposed constitutional amendment was defeated in Missouri that would have limited voters’ rights on wildlife laws. This bill would have required a 2/3 majority vote to pass any citizens’ initiatives that reached the ballot if they affected wildlife, fish, or forestry issues. This 2/3 majority vote would replace the simple majority vote (more than 50 percent approval) that is currently required for all other ballot questions.

Washington banned the use of the gruesome treble hook, a metal device resembling three large fish hooks anchored together, designed to embed in the throat of mammals when the device is swallowed. Treble hooks are primarily used to kill coyotes.

API needs your help with critical state legislation. Please see our Take Action section or call our Government Affairs department at 916-447-3085 x208 to get involved.

Lobbying Made Easy

API participates in the public policy process and we invite you to become involved as well! We want to make it as simple as possible for you to take action for animals. Toward that end, here are the answers to some questions that you might have about the legislative process and why and how to get involved:

Why is it important for me to participate in the political process?

While it can take very little time, the results can be enormous. Elected officials take notice when they are contacted by constituents, the individuals who reside in their district and whom they represent. Therefore, you have the power to influence whether your elected officials introduce and support anti-animal legislation and defeat legislation unfriendly to animals.

In addition, you have the ability to hold elected officials accountable for the decisions that they make. Remember: You can ask your elected officials to introduce legislation that protects animals from cruelty and exploitation. They may be unaware of an animal-related concern and simply need you to raise the issue to spur them to action.

I know I am represented by several elected officials, but am unsure exactly how legislative systems work.

U.S. citizens are represented at the federal level of government by congresspersons: two members of the Senate and one member of the House of Representatives. (Note that persons residing in Washington, D.C. or U.S. territories are represented by a delegate or resident commissioner.) These federal elected officials only pursue legislation that applies to the entire United States.

You are also represented by elected officials at the state level — typically one senator and one representative at your state legislature (although this may vary from state to state). These legislators introduce and enact laws that affect activities within their state.

Lastly, you are represented by a county board of commissioners and/or by city council members. These local government officials enact laws that apply only to the city/county they oversee.

How do I find out who my elected officials are?

You are represented simultaneously by elected officials at the town/city, county, state, and national level.

Several sources can assist in identifying your elected officials, including the League of Women Voters, your local library, your local board of elections, and your state legislature information desk (these offices are listed in the blue “Government” section of your telephone directory white pages).

You can identify your representative in the U.S. House of Representatives at www.house.gov/writerep. Simply enter your zip code and the name of your representative will be supplied. Your two U.S. Senators are listed by state at www.senate.gov/senators/senator_by_state.cfm.

You can give feedback to the President through the White House comment line: 202-456-1111.

What is the best way to contact my legislator?

A variety of methods can be used to deliver a message to your elected officials. Some methods, however, are more effective than others.

  • Letters and personal visits are probably the best means of communicating with officials. Faxes are convenient when a vote on a measure is fast approaching.
  • Email and telegrams are useful when time is short, but these methods lack the impact of a traditional letter. Handwritten postcards are another convenient way of communicating but, once again, have less impact than a letter.
  • Telephone calls can be made when a vote is imminent. Ask to speak to the staff member responsible for animal protection issues and request that she or he record your position.
  • Form letters, pre-printed postcards, and petitions should only be used when no other action is possible.

But I’m just one person — can I really make a difference?

To quote British author Joan Ward-Harris, “In the long run it is the cumulative effect that matters. One can do much. And one and one and one and one can move mountains.”

In other words, your phone call, letter, or visit could be the very one that creates a critical mass influencing an elected official to decide an issue in a particular way.

But you’re asking me to LOBBY! Don’t lobbyists donate money to elected officials in exchange for a vote?

In any given year, state legislators may review and vote on hundreds of pieces of legislation. Due to the sheer volume of measures they must consider, it is impossible for elected officials to fully understand each issue. Therefore, they rely on lobbyists, constituents, and others to educate them about the potential impact of the measures that come before them.

Your letters and calls allow elected officials to make fully informed decisions about legislation affecting animals.

But I don’t know how to lobby. What are the dos and don’ts?

Lobbying is actually pretty straightforward:

Be specific. Use either the bill number and title or subject matter to identify the legislation about which you are writing or calling. Specify clearly whether you want your legislator to support or oppose the bill.

Be polite. Don’t be surprised if you are unable to speak directly with the legislator and if, instead, you speak with his or her staff. Ask for the legislator’s viewpoint and how he or she intends to vote on the bill. Don’t argue. Your role is to build a rapport with the legislator and his or her staff.

Be brief. Keep the letter or call brief. Mention that you are a constituent. Concisely state the reasons for your position. Relate any personal experience you’ve had with the issue.

Stick to one issue or piece of legislation. It is best to limit each letter or call to only one issue. If you are writing to a legislator, however, more than one letter may be included in the same envelope.

Provide your contact information. Be sure to provide your address and zip code so that your legislator can reply to you.

Follow up. Send a letter thanking the legislator for listening to your opinion. This is also an opportunity to briefly remind her or him of your position. If your legislator votes on legislation in a way that helps animals, be sure to thank her or him.

How will I know that I am having an impact?

There are several methods that you can use. The letters and replies that you receive from your legislators will, over time, let you know whether you are making a difference. In addition, when you first begin to advocate for animals, you can obtain a voting scorecard or other animal-related voting record for your state or congressional officials. (Contact API for more information on voting records.) If you see an improvement in voting records on animal issues, it implies that your letters and calls are effective.

On the other hand, if you feel that an elected official consistently fails to take your views into account, focus on building a relationship with his or her staff, so that the staffpersons can influence the legislator. You might also consider submitting a letter to the editor of a local newspaper analyzing the legislator’s voting record.

Are there any individuals or groups I can contact so that I am not working alone?

You should never feel that you are alone in caring about animal protection issues! Chances are, there are many other like-minded individuals working to impact animal protection legislation in your city or state.

Contact API, and we will link you with others in your area working on particular animal issues, and/or put you in touch with API staff to further assist you to effect the desired change.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely stated, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If you are not already doing so, now is the perfect time for you to speak out for the animals!

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