Mississippi state lawmakers have introduced a first-of-its-kind bill that would, in part, allow police officers, without a warrant, to enter any home where they believe a pit bull or other "dangerous dog" might be present.
- The dogs are "not under proper restraint when on the premises of its owner."
- They aren't wearing vaccination tags on their necks.
- They are still running around after "attempts to peacefully capture the dog have been made and proven unsuccessful."
The measure, also known as the Mississippi Regulation of Dangerous Dogs Act, is meant to "create civil and criminal penalties for failing to keep dangerous dogs securely confined and under restraint, and for failing to meet certain requirements designed to protect the public."
If the bill -- introduced Jan. 19 and sponsored by four Republican lawmakers -- becomes law, Mississippi would be alone in having this kind of state-wide discriminatory legislation specifically calling out pit bulls.
"This bill would make Mississippi the only state in the nation with a statewide policy discriminating against a specific dog breed, and the impact on local communities, animal shelters, and law enforcement would be disastrous," says Chloe Waterman, senior manager of state legislative strategy for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Dogs permitted by their owners to run loose, and dogs who attack people or other animals, pose a serious problem to public safety. But breed-specific dangerous dog laws are ineffective, inhumane and costly."
Of course, H.B. 1261 raises a slew of concerns on its own, especially the issue of warrantless searches and seizures.
"The fourth amendment clearly protects people from such actions," observes Kris Diaz, executive director of a group that advocates for breed-neutral legislation, who called attention to the Mississippi bill on her blog. "This bill effectively removes any protections people have from unreasonable search and seizure, and opens the door to using a dangerous dog claim as a way to scrutinize people for things they couldn’t otherwise get a warrant for."
University of Florida law professor Darren Hutchinson agrees.
"Anything that tries to eliminate the need for a warrant to enter into a home raises huge fourth amendment concerns," he says.
Echoing those statements, Aimee Shaw, founder of Mississippi-based Shaw Pit Bull Rescue, says the bill doesn't even "address the bigger issue."
"We need specific laws that issue stiffer fines and punishment for animal abuse, neglect and dog fighting," she says. "The costs associated with enforcing H.B. 1261 could be better utilized in promoting spay/neuter, and training police officers in dog body language to prevent the needless killing of family dogs. Education is the key, not discrimination."
She's also worried that passage of the bill would make euthanasia rates "go through the roof."
"There are so many breeds that are mistaken for pit bulls that would be euthanized, as well -- labs, boxers, hounds, the list goes on," she says.
The bill in part defines a "dangerous dog" as a pit bull, but that definition is also problematic.
Under H.B. 1261, a pit bull is in "a class of dogs that specifically includes the breeds of American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog, and any other pure bred or mixed breed dog that is a combination of these dog breeds."
"This would mean that if a dog was 1 percent pit bull, it could fall under the definition as written," says Fred Kray, a lawyer who hosts a weekly podcast on pit bulls and the law. "There is no government rational basis for banning a dog that is 99 percent Lab and 1 percent pit bull. There is no scientific or any evidence whatsoever genetically or behaviorally, that such a dog would be a danger to the public safety."
The Huffington Post asked the bill's four sponsors -- Republicans Larry Byrd, Randy Boyd, Lester Carpenter and Tommy Taylor -- to address the concerns about their proposed law but did not receive an immediate response.
For now, the bill has been referred to the House of Representatives' Judiciary B committee, according to the website. It is unclear if a vote or hearing has been scheduled.
Shaw says she's feeling hopeful.
"I, personally," she says, "don't believe this bill could possibly pass."
UPDATE, January 27, 2015, 6:03 p.m.: Andy Gipson, chair of the Mississippi House of Representatives' Judiciary B committee, announced on Tuesday that due to the overwhelmingly negative response to the bill, and the lack of time to fix its flaws, H.B. 1261 will be killed in committee:
You can read the whole bill here. Follow Kris Diaz's work for dogs on the Stop BSL blog. Find out more about Shaw Pit Bull Rescue's adoptable pups on the group's Facebook page. Listen to Pit Bull Legal News Radio here.
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