About 50 protesters, some with dogs, gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to speak out against a bill to trump cities' ability to regulate puppy mills.
HB476 would prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or other rules that prohibit the operation of an animal enterprise or the use of a working animal. Governments would instead only be able to enforce state and federal laws.
Rachel Heatley, advocacy director at Humane Society of Utah, said advocates are concerned the bill will create a "carte blanche for pet stores and puppy mills all over the state, to kind of flood us with, essentially, puppy mill puppies from the Midwest — let's be honest about it."
Bill sponsor Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, said during a House debate that a "hodgepodge" of rules across counties and cities impacts animal industries negatively. Agricultural businesses cross jurisdictional lines, he noted.
The bill would allow regulations to be "set by us as policymakers on a broad state level," he said.
Land use regulations, such as those that limit the number of animals on a resident's property, and animal cruelty enforcement could still be set at the local level, Ferry added.
The House passed the bill on a 43-28 vote Tuesday. It awaits a vote in the Senate before receiving final passage.
Animal advocates are concerned the bill will pave the way for more puppy stores that source animals from puppy mills to come to the state by ending local laws that prevent them. Utah does not have a statewide law against puppy stores. A bill last year that sought to limit a pet store to only hosting dogs and cats from nonprofit animal rescues or public animal shelters failed in the Legislature.
Heatley said the bill is "not in any way helping breeders in the state or any kind of reputable business, this is about some really nasty actors in the Midwest who we are now kind of propositioned to take over the state."
Senate Minority Caucus Manager Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said he and his colleagues have long fought for animal rights in the Legislature.
"If you take a look at these puppy mills, they really are nothing more than abuse to animals, using a female dog and getting her pregnant, and then just putting those puppies right on top of each other in cages and not really raising them right," Davis said.
The bill would take local control, which he described as something "under attack" this year on Capitol Hill. He said he will fight against the bill in the Senate.
Ian Williams, president of the Utah Animal Control Officers' Association and animal control director for Sandy, said the group fears losing control of animal regulation at the local level.
Responding to the idea that there's a "patchwork" of animal control laws across the state, Williams said that's because the state is diverse with rural, suburban and urban areas that each have different needs.