Local Action For Animals As A Stepping Stone To State Protections
Municipal ordinances can be an effective way to create animal protection laws at the local level, and could lead to great success at the state level. Passing laws at the local level allows people to help animals in their communities, while providing a model for other cities and jurisdictions. Local laws can also create momentum for statewide initiatives, which demonstrates a state’s strong commitment to protecting animals.
Legislation is a key avenue animal advocates use to effect change at scale, but there is not much research about how to choose tractable issues and lobby for them successfully. The goal of this project was to look at whether local laws have laid the groundwork for laws at the state level of government, as a potential avenue for change. This study aimed to determine whether there is evidence that local animal laws have been or could influence state laws. And secondarily, whether case law has influenced state legislation.
To this end, we reviewed legal materials relating to animal welfare in the United States. The scope of this review included legislation and case law from the past twenty years, related to a range of animal welfare topics. Our primary focus was on farmed animal issues, but with consideration given to other issues that are similar and potentially generalizable. Our goals were to identify any trends and provide recommendations to advocates based on previous attempts to broaden the scope of animal welfare laws.
- Similar local laws that are adopted by multiple jurisdictions appear to positively influence the creation of state laws. States seem to be more influenced when there are similar laws adopted widely across a large number of cities, presumably because the enactment of similar laws across the state or nation shows increasing public support for that particular animal topic. This also pressures the state legislature to reevaluate whether or not state laws are adequate to address the issue. When there is little or no similar law at the local level or in other states, it appears more likely that the bill will fail on the first attempt, or even several.
- Preemption of local laws by state statutes is the biggest barrier for animal advocates to effect change in municipalities. “Preemption” refers to a higher level of government preventing a lower level of government from regulating a specific issue. The existence of state and federal laws preempting local governments from creating ordinances on specific animal topics make it essentially impossible for a municipality to take action in their community. Each state delegates power—the right to make laws and regulations to benefit their communities—to local governments in that state via the state’s constitution. In cases where local governments are preempted from creating laws on a particular animal issue, there may be no local laws on that topic for advocates to use in support of a state bill. For animal advocates, this is particularly relevant when it comes to farmed animals, because many states use preemption around animal husbandry and care standards in the agriculture industry.
- Even when there is preemption, non-binding local resolutions may influence the state legislature, as can litigation in some situations. When local governments’ power to create laws has been preempted, they can create non-binding resolutions to pressure higher levels of government to take action. This can bring awareness to state legislators about an issue the local community is concerned about, potentially inspiring legislators to consider the topic. We saw widespread use of resolutions in this review, with at least 7 resolutions that seemed likely to have influenced state legislation and another 16 that appeared to have influenced other municipalities—see the tables at the end of the full report for details. Lawsuits were less frequent, but California Veterinary Medical Ass’n. v. City of West Hollywood (2007) provides an example of litigation being used successfully to reaffirm a city’s power when state preemption was overly broad.
- Persistence is necessary, especially for animal issues with less local support. We found that it took multiple attempts for many states to review and refine a bill pertaining to animal issues. Most state bills did not pass on their first introduction. State bills undergo an extensive process of reading, editing, and revision from the House and Senate chambers. Particularly when there are no similar bills or legislation enacted in other states or municipalities, it seems legislators may be wary of passing something without a clear base of support.
- Animal protection issues are at varying stages of success and are subject to different challenges. While the primary goal of this report was to examine the influence of local action, an additional goal was to compile data about state and local laws for advocates to use as a starting point for additional research or to suggest actions they can take. State laws identified during our review are described in an Excel spreadsheet on the Open Science Framework.
Some of our recommendations apply to both experienced legal advocates as well as those advocates without much history of political work (commonly referred to as “grassroots advocates”), but we have created separate sections for each to frame them appropriately.
- Participate in creating strong animal protection laws in your community. Supporting local laws is a feasible way for animal advocates anywhere in the country to get involved in political action for animals. While the immediate impact may seem limited, this review found evidence that local action can be impactful as a demonstration of constituent support, particularly if a law is widely adopted across multiple jurisdictions. When deciding what to work on, you can draw from an issue you see happening in your area, but ensure that you also search online to see what kind of protections other cities in your state have around that issue—you can use them as a template or starting point.
- Talk to your representatives. Legislators, particularly at the local level, may be surprisingly willing to talk to someone who takes the time to set up a call. As part of this, try to research which of your city councillors might be willing to prioritize a specific animal topic by searching for their past voting record and other activities outside of government. When advocates form friendly relationships with legislators, legislators are more likely to help pass the desired legislation. They are also more likely to be honest: for instance, indicating the best time to introduce a bill and how to help it pass.
- Make state legislators aware of local ordinances. The above recommendation about talking to your representatives applies at the state level as well. Beyond expressing your own personal desire for better animal protections, it may be particularly impactful to let them know about local ordinances or resolutions that support the change you’d like to see at the state level. This provides the legislator with objective evidence that many people care about the issue.
- For advocates looking to pursue the specific topics covered in this report, each has its own context and takeaways. For all of the recommendations below, we also suggest that advocates read the specifics in the relevant sections of the full report.
- Battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates: In many states, laws may preempt local governments from creating local laws about the treatment of farmed animals, but local governments can write non-binding resolutions to pressure their state to make a change like banning battery cages or gestation and veal crates. While there is limited evidence about whether resolutions are effective, they are an option for advocates looking to work on these issues and could make an impact if they can be presented to state legislators in conjunction with other pieces of evidence (e.g., corporate pledges, public opinion surveys, animal welfare testimony).
- Foie Gras: California is the only state to explicitly ban foie gras sales at the state level to date, and that ban has been challenged multiple times. Grassroots advocates can help by working with local governments outside California to bring about bans in more places, and/or by working with restaurants and businesses to remove foie gras from their menus, as these stakeholders have been strong opponents of the existing bans in California and the city of Chicago.
- Fur: California is the only state to ban fur sales at the state level, which was preceded by local action in several cities. At least six other states have so far failed to pass statewide bans on fur sales. Grassroots advocates can assist by working toward local bans in cities that don’t already have them and ensuring that state legislators are aware of local ordinances that do exist: namely, in Florida, Michigan, and Colorado.
- Plant-Based Procurement & Meat Reduction: While non-binding resolutions are in place in numerous cities throughout the U.S., to our knowledge there are currently no binding local laws requiring governmental purchase of plant-based foods or city-wide meat reduction actions. Resolutions can be an important step, but do not compel action. Therefore, grassroots advocates may wish to encourage action on these resolutions by reaching out to local government and businesses to ask about changes and express support for them.
- Puppy Mills & Pet Retail: With more than 400 U.S. municipalities banning puppy mill sales, state bills have had more success in this area. However, in states where bills have not passed, very few people testifying in support of the bill mentioned specific local ordinances. Grassroots advocates may be able to support state-level efforts by encouraging their representatives to consider local laws as evidence of voters’ desire for a ban.
- Declawing: Just two states have banned the practice, and both appeared to be influenced by local ordinances that were mentioned in their bills. We recommend that advocates continue to pursue local action and follow other recommendations above to create state-level change.
- Organize efforts to create strong local ordinances across a state, or other local initiatives if ordinances are not possible. Supporting local ordinances is a feasible way for animal advocates anywhere in the country to get involved in political action for animals. While the immediate impact may seem limited, this review found evidence that local action can be impactful as a demonstration of constituent support, particularly if a law is widely adopted across multiple jurisdictions. Local legislation can also provide a template for the state or other cities to model new legislation on. Given the tendency for other jurisdictions to model legislation after existing examples, we recommend that advocates work to make local ordinances as protective as possible of many animals, thinking of it as a potential template for larger-scale action.
- Take note of opportunities to leverage existing local ordinances and resolutions. In the Fur and Plant-Based Procurement & Meat Reduction sections of this report, we have noted building momentum and potential for future action around fur bans, plant-based procurement, and Meatless Mondays.
- Make state legislators aware of local ordinances. If there is evidence of local ordinances or initiatives being implemented in a state’s municipalities, this also can create conversation about why the state has not taken action as well. Informing state legislators of local ordinances ensures that they are aware that this is an area of concern that should be looked into. States may then evaluate all the local ordinances, decide which parts of the ordinances fit their jurisdiction best, and adopt those standards.
- Provide information to people testifying in support of a state bill about local ordinances and initiatives and ask them to mention those existing ordinances in their testimony. This is particularly likely to help if the localities are in the state in question, but this review found evidence that mentioning local ordinances in other states may also be helpful. At the same time, we found that there were many cases where a relevant local ordinance existed but was apparently not mentioned in support of a state bill.
- A multi-pronged approach is likely helpful. The existence of local ordinances or initiatives should be one of multiple arguments made to influence legislators, along with other factors like public attitudes, environmental impacts, animal welfare concerns, and so on. For example, the State of New York relied on multiple reasons for banning cat declawing, such as: evidence showing cat relinquishment to shelters is unlikely; declawing causes behavioral issues; there are shifting attitudes amongst individuals and organizations; and the enactment of local ordinances in other jurisdictions.
- Track and share barriers and supports you encounter during the pursuit of legislative change. Particularly because multiple attempts are often necessary to pass a bill, it’s crucial to learn as much as we can from those experiences. Your own future efforts or other groups’ efforts may benefit from tracking anything that seems to positively or negatively influence your efforts.
- For advocates looking to pursue the specific topics covered in this report, each has its own legislative history to consider. We encourage legal advocates to read the specifics in the relevant sections of the full report and/or to consult the tables at the end of the full report, where we have listed all state legislation and statutes, local ordinances and resolutions, and case law cited in this report.
Applying These Findings
We understand that reports like this have a lot of information to consider and that acting on research can be challenging. Faunalytics is happy to offer pro bono support to advocates and nonprofit organizations who would like guidance applying these findings to their own work. Please visit our Office Hours or contact us for support.
Behind The Project
The project’s lead author was Precious Hose (Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University). Dr. Jo Anderson (Faunalytics) reviewed and oversaw the work.
We would like to thank Sarah Hanneken and several anonymous advocates who provided valuable input about this research throughout the process. In addition, we are grateful to Faunalytics’ donors for your support—your donations allow us to conduct essential research like this to help you take action for animals.
Research Ethics Statement
As with all of Faunalytics’ original research, this study was conducted according to the standards outlined in our Research Ethics and Data Handling Policy.