Rhode Island: HB7630 would allow Warwick to regulate pit bulls

A bill has been introduced in the Rhode Island House of Representatives that would allow the city of Warwick to enact an ordinance mandating the spaying or neutering of “pit bulls and Staffordshire bull terriers” living within the Warwick city limits.

House Bill 7630 was proposed by Representatives Bennett, Shekarchi, McNamara, Ferri, and Hull, and has been assigned to the Municipal Government Committee.

In July 2013, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law a bill that prohibits the passage of any law that regulates specific breeds of dogs. That state law sets forth the following:

No city or town may enact any rule, regulation or ordinance specific to any breed of dog, cat or other animal in the exercise of its power to further control and regulate dogs, cats or other animals as authorized by this chapter.

Warwick was one of a handful of cities that had in place an ordinance targeting “pit bulls” and, in fact, that ordinance remains in the city code. Section 4-124 of Chapter 4 states:

No person shall own or harbor within the city any American Pitbull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or a dog that is a mix of the two breeds over the age of six months, which has not been spayed or neutered, unless such person holds a license to keep an unaltered American Pitbull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or a dog that is a mix of the two breeds, or a license for breeding said dogs issued by the director of the animal shelter of the City of Warwick.

Apparently, officials in Warwick, like those in Pawtucket, believe the new state law does not apply to them. But State Representative Thomas Palangio, the sponsor of the bill that prohibits breed specific legislation, disagrees.  He asserts that just as federal law supersedes state law, state law supersedes municipal law, and in July 2013, Palangio asked the state Attorney General for a legal opinion on the dispute. To date, that opinion has yet to be released, leaving the cities who had breed specific laws in place in a position to continue enforcement if they interpret the state law as not applying to them.

Frankly, the fact that a bill has been introduced to allow Warwick to regulate a specific breed is an admission that their existing ordinance, while still on the books, is null and void.

RHODE ISLAND RESIDENTS: Please reach out to the House Municipal Government Committee and ask them to vote “no” on HB7630. Remind them that last year a bill was introduced in the House, the legislative body in which they represent, and ultimately signed into law that prohibits any manner of  regulation of specific breeds of dogs.

In addition, let them know that breed specific laws are discriminatory, and unfairly target and stigmatize specific breeds of dogs. More importantly, mandatory spay/neuter laws are unenforceable and succeed only in branding a specific breed as “bad,” “dangerous,” or as needing special regulation not warranted for other breeds of dogs.

Members of the House Municipal Government Committee:

rep-lima@rilin.state.ri.us, rep-marshall@rilin.state.ri.us,

As always, please be sure to keep your communications with elected officials polite and respectful.  The manner in which we represent ourselves can and does make a difference.

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