BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                        
                       SENATE LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE
                      Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod, Chair


          BILL NO:  AB 1634                     HEARING:  6/25/08
          AUTHOR:  Levine                       FISCAL:  Yes
          VERSION:  6/18/08                     CONSULTANT:  Detwiler

                                 DOGS AND CATS

                           Background and Existing Law  

          The Legislature has declared that the overpopulation of  
          dogs and cats is "a problem of great public concern,"  
          noting that overpopulation causes public health problems,  
          affects local animal control departments, and results in  
          euthanizing too many cats and dogs (AB 1856, Vincent,  
          1998).

          Local animal shelters must care for stray and impounded  
          dogs and cats for six days before euthanizing them (SB  
          1785, Hayden, 1998).  In 2008-09, local governments claimed  
          about $23 million for the costs of this state mandated  
          local program.  The State Department of Public Health  
          tracks local shelter statistics by requiring local  
          officials to report rabies cases.

          State law requires animal control agencies and shelters to  
          spay or neuter the dogs and cats that they sell or give  
          away.  For dogs and cats that are injured or too sick to be  
          spayed or neutered, state law requires the adopter to agree  
          to have the animal sterilized at a later date and pay a  
          sterilization deposit.  State law requires fines for the  
          owners of nonspayed or unneutered dogs and cats that are  
          impounded:
                 First occurrence: $35.
                 Second occurrence: $50.
                 Third and subsequent occurrences: $100.
          The funds must be spent for humane education, spaying and  
          neutering, and administrative costs (AB 1856, Vincent,  
          1998; SB 1301, Vincent, 2004).

          Officials regulate dogs and cats under a mix of state laws  
          and local ordinances.  Some cities and counties have  
          ordinances that require owners to spay or neuter their cats  
          and dogs.  State law allows cities and counties to adopt  
          programs to control dangerous dogs that are more  
          restrictive than state law, but these local ordinances  




           
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          can't be breed-specific (SB 428, Torres, 1989).  However,  
          local officials can adopt breed-specific ordinances for  
          their mandatory spay or neuter programs and breeding  
          requirements (SB 861, Speier, 2005).

          Despite these regulations and despite the availability of  
          low-cost spay and neuter services, some groups believe that  
          legislators should do more to reduce the overpopulation of  
          dogs and cats.

                                   Proposed Law  

          Assembly Bill 1634 requires the owner of a nonspayed or  
          unneutered dog or cat that is the subject of a complaint to  
          be cited and pay a civil penalty in addition to any other  
          fine, fee, or penalty.

          For dogs, the bill specifies these civil penalties:
                 First occurrence: $50.
                 Second occurrence for the same dog: $100.
                 Third occurrence for the same dog: mandatory  
               spaying or neutering, with the owner paying for the  
               procedure's cost.

          For cats, the bill specifies these civil penalties:
                 First occurrence: $50.
                 Second occurrence for the same cat: mandatory  
               spaying or neutering, with the owner paying for the  
               procedure's cost.

          When issuing a citation, the local animal control agency  
          must give the animal's owner information about the  
          availability of spaying and neutering services.  The owner  
          must pay the civil penalty within 30 business days.  The  
          local animal control agency must waive the penalty if,  
          within 14 days, the animal's owner presents proof from a  
          veterinarian that the animal was spayed or neutered.

          AB 1634 defines a "complaint" as an oral or written  
          complaint to the local animal control agency that the dog  
          or cat or its owner has violated state laws relating to  
          dogs or cats, or any local animal control ordinance.  A  
          "complaint" also includes the observation by an employee or  
          officer of a local animal control agency of behavior by a  
          dog or cat or its owner that violates those state laws or  





           
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          local ordinances.  "Complaint" does not include excessive  
          noise by dogs or cats, and does not include excessive dog  
          barking.

          The bill allows local officials to adopt more restrictive  
          ordinances or penalties.

          For the owners of impounded nonspayed or unneutered dogs,  
          AB 1634 increases the existing fines from $35 to $50 on the  
          first occurrence, from $50 to $100 on the second  
          occurrence, and from $100 to mandatory spaying or neutering  
          on the third occurrence.  For the owners of impounded  
          nonspayed or unneutered cats, the bill increases the  
          existing fines from $35 to $50 on the first occurrence, and  
          from $50 to mandatory spaying or neutering on the second  
          occurrence.  

          AB 1634 prohibits the State Controller from releasing  
          payments that reimburse local agencies for the state  
          mandated local costs of impounding stray and abandoned  
          animals until the Controller determines that the local  
          agency has complied with the State Department of Public  
          Health's rabies reporting regulations.  The bill declares  
          that this provision modifies the payment methodology, but  
          does not suspend the state mandated local program.

                                    Comments  

          1.   Responsible actions  .  Tackling the problems caused by  
          dog and cat overpopulation requires the combined efforts of  
          animal owners, pet breeders, veterinarians, private  
          organizations, local officials, and state leaders.  Many  
          owners and breeders already control the number and sizes of  
          their animals' litters.  Many veterinarians contribute  
          their services to free and low-cost spay and neuter  
          programs.  Private organizations actively educate the  
          public about overpopulation problems and solutions.  Local  
          officials have adopted local ordinances to curb dog and cat  
          overpopulation.  Yet despite these efforts and some  
          successes, California still endures the problems caused by  
          overpopulation.  AB 1634 confronts the problem of dog and  
          cat overpopulation by building on the 1998 law that  
          requires the owners of impounded animals to pay fines if  
          their pets aren't spayed or neutered.  The bill complements  
          that 10-year old law by imposing civil penalties on owners  





           
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          whose animals' behavior generates complaints.

          2.   Says who  ?  The 1998 Vincent bill was clear --- if you  
          dog or cat ended up impounded at the local animal shelter,  
          you must pay fines that increase with each occurrence.   
          Like the current law, AB 1634 applies penalties of  
          increasing severity, but the triggering mechanism is a much  
          vaguer "complaint" about a dog or cat's behavior.  The  
          bill's definition of "complaint" excludes excessive noise  
          and barking, but a feuding neighbor's call could still send  
          the animal control officer to your door.  In the real  
          world, it would be up to the local animal control officer's  
          discretion to cite the owner.  The Committee may wish to  
          consider whether the bill gives too much discretion to  
          local animal control agencies over when to cite owners for  
          their dog or cat's bad behavior.

          3.   Personal responsibility, public regulation  .  Owning and  
          caring for dogs and cats is deeply emotional for many  
          people.  Some pet owners resent even the existing state and  
          local government limits on how they treat their animals,  
          believing that these decisions are best left to the owners  
          themselves.  Responsible pet owners and breeders want  
          what's best for their dogs and cats.  Although many owners  
          acknowledge the public health and public finance problems  
          caused by unregulated pet overpopulation, they oppose  
          government requirements for spaying or neutering animals.   
          But not all animal owners are responsible.  Uncontrolled  
          litters result in inappropriate cross-breeding, feral cats,  
          and unwanted dogs.  Those who fail to take personal  
          responsibility for their animals create expensive problems  
          for all taxpayers.  AB 1634 offers local officials the  
          state law they need to focus attention on the dogs and cats  
          that don't behave.

          4.   Three big problems  .  The 1989 Vincent bill identified  
          three public policy problems that result from uncontrolled  
          dog and cat overpopulation: public health, public costs,  
          and unnecessary euthanization.  The Legislature declared  
          that the most effective solution is spaying and neutering.   
          Some cities and counties already have mandatory spay and  
          neuter ordinances.  The earlier versions of AB 1634 would  
          have created uniform, statewide program that would have  
          relied on mandatory spaying and neutering of most dogs and  
          cats, with limited exceptions.  The June 18, 2008 version  





           
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          of the bill instead relies on local citations and gradually  
          increasing civil penalties.  The Committee may wish to  
          consider whether AB 1634 really reduces the number of  
          unwanted dogs and cats.  Will the bill work?

          5.   By the numbers  .  For at least 50 years, the State of  
          California has required local health departments to submit  
          regular reports on cases of rabies among animals.  The  
          Veterinary Public Health Section of the California  
          Department of Public Health collects these data into  
          statewide reports.  The state's reporting forms are so  
          detailed that state officials can track the population of  
          dogs and cats in local animal shelters.  However, the  
          results are reliable only if all counties report on time.   
          To improve data collection, AB 1634 postpones paying local  
          officials for their costs of the state mandated longer  
          shelter stays until county health officials comply with the  
          long-standing reporting requirement.  With better data, the  
          public can track the effectiveness of AB 1634.

          6.   Legislative history  .  When the Senate Local Government  
          Committee heard AB 1634 on July 11, 2007, the bill would  
          have prohibited the ownership of a cat or dog over six  
          months old unless the animal had been spayed or neutered,  
          or unless the owner had an "intact permit."  Although it  
          reviewed the bill and took public testimony, the Committee  
          didn't vote.  The June 18, 2008 amendments rewrote AB 1634  
          by deleting its prior contents and instead inserting the  
          current language.  The Committee will consider the amended  
          bill at its June 25 hearing.


                                 Assembly Actions 

          Not relevant to the June 18, 2008 version of the bill.


                         Support and Opposition  (6/19/08)

           Support  :  Infeasible to determine.

           Opposition  :  Infeasible to determine.