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Animal rights groups escalate advocacy at the state level

Charley Shaw//June 14, 2010

Animal rights groups escalate advocacy at the state level

Charley Shaw//June 14, 2010

The National Journal recently reported on an animal rights issue that appears to be another example of states serving as laboratories for the ambitions of national advocacy groups.

The magazine reported in detail about the efforts of the Humane Society of the United States and its political action committee, Humane USA, to place a constitutional amendment on the Ohio general election ballot this fall that would require livestock farmers to house their animals in a setting where they have enough space to move around rather than being confined to cramped spaces.

Animal rights groups appear to be targeting states where ballot access is easier than in Minnesota, where legislators must first pass a ballot question before it can be placed on the ballot.

But the profile of animal rights issues in Minnesota has increased somewhat in recent sessions. And one Minnesota agriculture policy expert said it’s likely animal rights groups will exert increased pressure at the Capitol next year.

State legislatures are strategically important arenas for groups that are trying to achieve national prominence. That’s because a successful state-based campaign sends a message to national leaders in Washington, D.C., that at least a section of the country support change, such as stricter laws governing the treatment of animals.

The strategy isn’t unique to animal rights groups. Issues like Internet taxation and both sides of the gay marriage issue have arrived in St. Paul via similar routes in recent years.

The Humane Society of the United States is represented at the Capitol by Howard Goldman and has contract lobbying help from Faegre & Benson’s Nancy Hylden.

Issues that have drawn particular interest at the Capitol for animal rights groups include changes to horse breeding and boarding property taxes. The issue pits agriculture against animal rights groups because they disagree on whether horses should be defined as companion animals or as agriculture.

Another contentious issue in recent sessions has been so-called puppy mill legislation. A bill authored by Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, and Rep. Tom Tillberry, DFL-Fridley, creates regulations for dog and cat breeders and establishes criminal penalties.

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