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House passes bill which would void local ordinances banning the sale of puppies

A bill establishing rules for allowing the sale of puppies by licensed breeders at retail locations across the state — including in those cities and towns that have previously banned such sales — is once again making its way through the Indiana legislature.

On Thursday, the Indiana House passed House Bill 1412 — dubbed the “puppy mill” bill by opponents — on second reading. The canine standard of care bill was introduced by Rep. Beau Baird, R-Greencastle and co-authored by Reps. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, and Robert Morris, R-Fort Wayne.

The measure was passed with an amendment identifying hobby breeders and holding them to the same standards as commercial breeders when selling pets through a pet store. The bill also establishes a series of fines for those hobby breeders who do not comply with licensing requirements passed.

Baird said the approved amendment ties up the loopholes that would have allowed hobby breeders to avoid scrutiny. He described the legislation and a much better bill than what was previously presented.

He said he does not believe the bill as written unnecessarily impedes local control. Prohibiting puppy sales in some communities and not others does nothing to address the root cause of the problem which is demand for puppies, Baird said. The protections in the canine standard of care created by Purdue University and used in the legislation will provide for the welfare of animals while still allowing sales to continue to meet the demand.

Baird, who raises and breeds Quarter Horses, said he “truly cares about animals.” He believes in responsible breeding and responsible breeding practices.

“To me this was a chance for us to try and address demand where it resides in a more human way, with higher standards,” he said. “I completely understand locals not wanting local ordinances to be undone. The entire premise is to address demand humanely in the state of Indiana.”

Aylesworth said legislators are trying to create uniform regulations throughout the state through the canine standard of care bill for the protection of dog breeders, owners and purchasers.

“We want to apply it uniformly,” Aylesworth said.

He said the bill’s authors met repeatedly with stakeholders over the summer in an effort to iron out the best possible legislation that would allow for the sale of canines while keeping them safe.

“I think I understand where (some) communities are coming from. I used to be a local government official. It’s important for businesses who are in the business of selling animals to have that opportunity if they have adopted the standards of care to continue in that business and not be put out of business,” Aylesworth said.

He described the bill as a consumer protection act that would prevent the use of puppy mills and other dogs that should not be sold.

“We want what’s best not only for the state of Indiana and all of the communities, we primarily want what’s best for the animals involved,” Aylesworth said.

An amendment, authored by State Rep. Mike Andrade, D-Munster, that would have grandfathered in ordinances adopted before July 24, 2024 failed.

Upon approval on third reading, the measure will head to the Senate. When senators considered a similar bill in 2023, it included a measure grandfathering in existing ordinances.

“We shouldn’t legislate over our local units of government that have current ordinances or regulations across our state that ban the sale of pets in pet stores,” Andrade said.

“We the General Assembly should not be the big brother government. This bill would void 21 local ordinances across Indiana that ban the sale of pets in pet stores. I have three towns out of the 21 in my District: Munster, Highland and a portion of Schererville.

“Communities across our state have acted under home rule to pass these bans because local matters should be decided at the local level. My amendment would grandfather the current ordinances to allow them to remain in place, aligning this bill with the same language the Senate passed in their version last year, SB 134,” Andrade said.

Dawn Stokes, who was a Crown Point City Councilwoman in 2021 when the city passed its ordinance banning the sale of puppies in retail establishments, agrees with Andrade. Stokes was among those who testified against the bill during its first go around in the legislature in 2023.

Aside from the animal welfare issues, she said the bill is an overreach of state control.

“We don’t need the state telling us if we can or can’t do. It’s just all craziness. We should be able to decide as a community — we should be allowed to decide — whatever we want to come into our community,” Stokes said.

If this bill becomes law, she said it would be possible for the state to require cities and towns to allow businesses such as strip clubs or gun shops. Locally elected officials would not have the control to implement the will of residents to shape the way the city or town develops.

“It’s a bad precedent if the state passes this … Where does it stop?” Stokes said.

Crown Point Mayor Pete Land said the city is keeping an eye on the bill and will make adjustments to the local ordinance as needed once the final version is approved.

“As we did in 2021, the City of Crown Point will continue to take steps to ensure the well-being of not only dogs and cats, but all animals who call Crown Point home,” Land said.

Valparaiso was among the most recent Northwest Indiana community to pass an ordinance banning the sale of puppies after several contentious city council meetings in 2023.

The ordinance was passed in February 2023 after complaints about the opening of a new retail puppy store, City Council President Robert Cotton, R-2, said. Cotton said he agrees with the House majority that businesses should be allowed to sell puppies.

“… I share concerns about unscrupulous breeding and the abandonment of maturing pets. I believe that banning honest players from operating in this space is antithetical to conservative principles of our free-market system,” Cotton told the Post-Tribune.

He is convinced that banning versus sensible regulation will only empower dark players in the underground market.

If the House Bill becomes law as it is now written, it will likely invalidate the city’s ordinance.

“And I’m OK with that as long as municipalities across the state are provided resources to police and enforce compliance,” Cotton said.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com