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Deadline nears for dog auction bill

Ohio lawmakers have less than 2 weeks to take action for ban

COLUMBUS -- Thirteen days and counting.

It appears lawmakers might let the clock run out on a proposed Ohio resident-initiated ban on dog auctions. Even if the proposal's supporters succeed in their goal of having it attached to a budget bill currently under debate, that bill probably would reach Gov. John Kasich's desk weeks after the May 3 deadline.

Ban backers then would have a decision to make. Do they trust the General Assembly to pass the proposed law that voter petitions placed before them after that date, or do they begin another intensive race against the clock to gather signatures to put the question on the ballot?

"We have to cross that bridge when we come to it," said Mary O'Connor Shaver, treasurer of the Coalition to Ban Ohio Dog Auctions. "There is no reason this should not be in the [mid-budget review] because 118,000 certified voter signatures are behind it … Any time you bring a ballot issue, it costs taxpayers' money," she said.

"Secretary of State [Jon] Husted has said a ballot issue would cost Ohio $1 million. I don't understand how the legislature feels justified in not putting it into the [midbudget review]," she said.

The initiated statute proposal and the petition campaign to put it on lawmakers' plates have largely operated under the radar. The four-month clock for legislative action began ticking when lawmakers resumed work at the start of the year, but no bill incorporating the petition's language has been introduced.

When questioned about it this week, it was clear that House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) did not have the issue on his immediate radar.

Rep. Peter Beck (R., Mason) attempted to have it included in a recent wholesale rewrite of one of a number of midbudget review bills now in the House, but it didn't make the cut. Although the amendment could yet be offered separately, he's not optimistic that it will make the final bill.

"There is no party line -- Democrat or Republican -- on this issue," he said. "We just want to do what's right. There are breeders out there that are solid, upstanding, small business owners who do a very good job. But like any other industry, there are bad eggs or bad apples, if you will, that bring doubt on the overall industry."

He does not plan to personally introduce a stand-alone bill and said he believes the ban's backers again will have to resort to circulating petitions to get on the ballot.

The proposed voter-driven statute would make it illegal to auction or raffle a dog in Ohio or to bring dogs here that had been auctioned or raffled in another state. A first offense would be a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $150, with subsequent offenses deemed fourth-degree misdemeanors carrying up to 30 days in jail and $250 fines.

The proposal is separate from the so-called "puppy mill bill" passed recently by the Senate and the subject of hearings in the House.

That bill seeks to toughen restrictions on large-scale dog-breeding operations.

At first glance, a dog auction ban would appear to be a better fit with the puppy mill bill, but Rep. David Hall (R., Millersburg), chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said that bill will not be ready to meet the strict timetable of the ban backers.

He has been reluctant to embrace a bill that hasn't been introduced. "How far does the bill go on auctions?" Mr. Hall asked. "Is it a slippery slope? Would it affect cattle auctions? Until I see a bill that is written, I can't really give an opinion. One word in a sentence -- 'may' or 'shall' -- can change how someone feels on a bill."

Once the May 3 deadline for legislative action passes, the ban's backers would have until early August to gather 115,570 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the 2013 ballot. But if they want to make this year's general election ballot on Nov. 6, they face an even tighter deadline of early July.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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