Editor's note: This story is the first of two that look at the latest in the controversial "puppy mill" law approved by voters in November. Part two will focus on Proposition B and the changes it enacts compared to existing animal protection laws.
When state Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-Napton) filed a "straight-up" repeal of Proposition B -- the ballot issue commonly known as the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act"-- critics were quick to speak up.
"Missouri's elected officials should respect the will of the people," said Barbara Schmitz, campaign director of Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, on a website statement. "Subverting the judgment of voters is anti-democratic. Our system is built on majority rule, and a majority of Missouri favored Prop B. The voters acted precisely because the legislature has failed to stop puppy mill abuses."
On Nov. 2, the proposition passed by 2 percent of the votes: 997,870 or 51.6 percent to 936,190 or 48.4 percent.* However, opponents of the law have pointed out it passed in just 11 of the state's 114 counties, with all but two of the counties being part of the metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis.
Since filing the repeal bill on Dec. 1, Stouffer's office has fielded many negative e-mails concerning the subject including at least one that hoped his family "all got AIDS and died."
Recently, six billboards have been purchased by the Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, a non-profit organization, that was formed to promote the legislation, to greet returning legislators with, "Missouri voters have spoken. Will you listen?"
"It is a highly emotional issue on both sides," Stouffer said in a recent interview with The Marshall Democrat-News. "I have breeders coming to me with tears in their eyes, because that is what their family depends on."
Stouffer -- who represents Saline, Lafayette, Howard, Chariton, Cooper, Howard, Ray counties, along with a small portion in Clay County -- points out that by proposing the repeal he is representing the will of the voters in his district.
"When I looked at my Senate district, I have a couple counties that voted 80 percent against it. I think in Saline County it was 65 to 35 against it," he said. The only county he represents which voted for the law was Clay, where he serves a small portion of precincts. In pulling out just the voters he represents in Clay, the vote was close to 50-50 on the issue, he said.
"So I feel like I am representing the folks that elected me."
According to Stouffer, proponents of the legislation, which included the Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., spent $4.5 million on advertising, including a strong television ad campaign in the metropolitan areas.
Those against the legislation, which included the Missourians for Animal Care coalition, spent approximately $120,000. Their campaign relied heavily on social media, word of mouth and local speakers.
Some opponents of Prop B have said the obvious split in voting, where some rural districts voted up to 90 percent against the issue, shows that "city voters" were swayed by the heart-tugging advertisements, instead of studying the issue, according to Stouffer.
Early polls had indicated that when first told of the issue, Missouri voters were 91 percent in favor of the legislation, said Stouffer.
"(But) It passed by less than 2 percent. That tells me the more people were informed, the more they realized this was a bad law," said Stouffer, who spent time in his district speaking against the law before the vote.
The new legislative session begins on Jan. 5, but Stouffer isn't under any illusions that this will be an easy fight.
"I think we will definitely get it altered," he said. "My impression is that if every legislator voted the way their district voted it would (be repealed)."
According to proponents of the bill however, the bill passed in 18 of 34 state Senate districts, and in a majority of House districts as well.
"The HSUS has already hired four lobbyists and this will be a donnybrook," Stouffer said.
Missourians for the protection of dogs
Missourians for Animal Care coalition
Wayne Pacelle to Farm Bureau
Map of US. animal breeders and Missouri together
Proposition B ballot language
In the original version of this story, the percentage of votes against Prop B was given as 49.4 rather than 48.4 percent. Return to corrected paragraph