Commercial cat and dog breeders would face new regulations, fees and licensing requirements under legislation that passed the Texas House on Tuesday.
The measure, which was approved 95-44, is designed to crack down on so-called puppy mills that breed animals for a quick profit in poor or unsafe conditions. It would require certain commercial breeders to provide the animals with food and water, clean cages and daily exercise.
"This is not enforcing anything more than the humane treatment of animals, and it's a protection for the consumer," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the Houston Democrat who sponsored the bill. "Consumers have the right to buy healthy animals."
Critics said the bill represented classic government overreach. Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, waged a two-week campaign to kill the legislation, saying it would violate constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. He said it would cost breeders too much money and set up a sort of "dog Gestapo" that could enter people's property without the owner being present.
"This bill will burden responsible breeders," Simpson said. "We're going to establish the pet police to come onto people's property and even their homes without a warrant."
Simpson said enforcing existing laws against animal cruelty would allow the state to close down irresponsible breeders.
The legislation would require commercial breeders, defined as those with 11 or more un-spayed females, to register with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The department would be responsible for licensing and inspecting the facilities. Hobby breeders are excluded from regulation.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruetly to Animals praised lawmakers for passing the bill.
Jill Buckley, senior director of ASPCA Legislative Affairs & Mediation said the bill would "ensure that large-scale dog and cat breeders in the state comply with such basic humane standards as providing clean water, proper food, enough space for dogs and cats to easily sit, stand, turn around and lie down, and provide essential veterinary care."
The bill faces a final procedural hurdle in the House before moving to the state Senate.