JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. | Months after Missouri voters approved a measure that cracks down on what animal advocates say are some of the nation's most notorious puppy mills, lawmakers are poised to repeal much of the law, saying the rules are too costly and punish legitimate dog-breeders who generate an estimated $1 billion annually in the state.
Animal advocates complain that elected officials essentially have overruled the will of the people, and they are prepared to put the issue on the ballot again next year.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said public confidence is undercut when about 100 lawmakers change a law backed by about 1 million voters.
"The effort in Jefferson City is a piece-by-piece dismantling of every core provision," he said. "It suggests to me that this is an industry that wants deregulation. They want to do things that they want and to heck with the people who care about dogs or consumers as long as there are enough dogs purchased."
Missouri Rep. Jerry Nolte, a Republican, who represents part a county that passed the ballot measure, said he voted for the bill because it will help protect dogs by increasing funding for enforcement.
"What I was trying to do was interpret what the voter intent was, and what they wanted to do was to lessen the suffering of these animals," he said. "And I believe that this, on balance, will reduce the suffering of these animals."
A spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said Thursday that the bill would get a careful review and declined comment on whether he planned to sign it. If Mr. Nixon does, some animal activist groups said they are prepared to put the issue on the ballot again.
The law passed in November on the strength of residents from heavily populated Kansas City and St. Louis but failed in rural areas where many dog breeders operate. But swayed by breeders who argued that the law would close them down and concerned about possible future regulation for other agricultural industries, a bipartisan group of mostly rural lawmakers voted to change most of the law's provisions. For example, a 50-dog cap is scrapped but breeders would pay more to boost state oversight of the industry.