The One Word Change

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The ongoing saga of whether some reproductively intact pets in California should be spayed or neutered goes on, after today's approval by a state Senate panel of controversial legislation on the subject... but approval that came only after the change of a single word in the bill.

AB 1634 by Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) began its legislative life as a strong requirement to sterilize most dogs and cats. But recent amendments moved the focus to sterlization for animals deemed by animal control officials to be problem pets.

The debate this morning before the Senate Local Government Committee attracted a large crowd of both supporters and opponents. And it focused on AB 1634's requirement that a citation must be issued after animal control officials receive a report of a problem pet. On the third citation, a dog would have to be fixed; a cat would have to be fixed after two citations.

So what happens, asked Sen. Tom Harman (R-Orange), if the complaint made to animal control officials is "frivolous or false"? Could a dispute between neighbors over something entirely different lead to mandatory sterlization of a dog after three complaints?

After a long discussion, Assemblymember Levine -- who either saw merit in the above scenario or simply decided that some bill was better than no bill -- agreed to once again amend AB 1634.

Now, instead of saying a pet owner "shall be cited" when a complaint is made... the bill says a pet owner "may be cited." And that wiggle room for local animal control officials was enough to draw the vote of Sen. Mike Machado (D-Linden), who cast the deciding vote.

Pet Sterlization is an emotional issue (after my last posting on this bill, I received more emails than on just about any topic). As such, it's unclear whether the two sides have found a proposal they can both live with... or are going to continue to battle it out as the bill heads next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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