House Bill 2525 squeaked out of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee on a nearly party-line vote after an unusual two-day debate last week. The bill would ban wire flooring, increase cage sizes, and require veterinary care for thousands of dogs in 650 commercial kennels that sell more than 60 dogs a year.
It would also give the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement additional enforcement powers to shut down kennels with repeated violations.
With 130 cosponsors and Rendell leading the charge, the bill was positioned to run this week. But the opposition loaded it down with scores of amendments, some gutting the language and others focusing on minutiae, apparently nixing a floor vote.
With the July 1 budget deadline already past, House Democratic leaders say they are loath to debate anything not budget-related.
"It's a distraction," said Johnna Pro, spokeswoman for House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans (D., Phila.). "We're trying to pass a budget for 12.5 million Pennsylvanians. This is an extremely controversial piece of legislation."
Jessie Smith, special deputy secretary for dog law, decried efforts to stall the bill. "Every day that goes by without action on H.B. 2525 only prolongs the suffering of dogs kept in commercial breeding kennel cages their entire lives," Smith said.
Not even calls from the staff of Oprah Winfrey, who devoted a segment of her show in the spring to the plight of dogs in Pennsylvania's commercial kennels, could help move the bill to the House floor. Evans got a call from a Winfrey producer Wednesday, Pro said.
"This is going to put legitimate, good, honest breeders out of business," said Republican Rep. Art Hershey, who represents Chester County, where several commercial kennels are located. "They will have to redo their kennels."
The bill is opposed by the Professional Dog Breeders Association, which represents 300 commercial kennels, and the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA), which represents 1,900 veterinarians.
The PVMA said it opposed the solid-floor requirement, and recommended coated wire flooring or another permeable surface for sanitation reasons. Advocates for the bill and veterinarians who treat dogs removed from breeding kennels counter that wire causes splayed paws and infections that make it difficult for dogs to walk on solid surfaces.
Legislative supporters say that if the bill is not approved before the summer break, they hope to get it back on track in the fall.
"We need this in Pennsylvania," Rep. Mario J. Civera (R., Delaware) said. "What's going on is a crime."
Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.