A bill intended to bar municipalities from issuing bans targeting specific dog breeds failed to advance from the House on Tuesday.
After roughly half an hour of discussion that became heated at times, House Bill 1519, by Rep. RJ Hawk, R-Bryant, was defeated by a 34-45 vote with 10 members voting present. A motion to expunge the vote later during the House meeting also failed.
Following the meeting, Hawk said he planned to regroup today with constituents who brought him the legislation and discuss how to proceed. He said he might work with opponents of the bill to see how the measure could be amended and brought back.
When presenting the bill to the House, Hawk said bans against pit bulls and other breeds of dogs perceived as dangerous are ineffective, costly to enforce and liable to be struck down in court. He also noted such bans discriminate against dogs that have not caused any harm.
"There are people that own dogs that might be considered a 'bad dog' that have never had an issue," he said. "Why should those people that don't have a bad dog be told they can't have that dog?"
While critics contend the legislation would infringe on local control, Hawk said he hoped the bill would encourage municipalities to adopt "dangerous dog" ordinances that target individual dogs known to cause harm rather than entire breeds. Hawk said several cities across the state have already adopted "dangerous dog" ordinances.
The bill would prevent municipalities or other political subdivisions from controlling or regulating "dogs, cats, or other animals based on the specific breed or perceived breed of the animal." Hawk said the measure would only bar breed bans for dogs and cats because of the sections of code the bill seeks to amend.
Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, spoke against the bill and related stories of pit-bull attacks in Arkansas, including one that left two toddlers dead.
"We cannot ignore the fact that even well-trained pit bulls have been reported to attack unexpectedly and cause serious injury and death," he said.
Pilkington objected to bans targeting specific dogs, saying these ordinances would require a dog to attack first and potentially cause serious harm.
Rep. Carlton Wing, R-North Little Rock, acknowledged the incidents Pilkington described were horrific but said breed bans are not effective in stopping dog attacks. Attempting to prove a dog's breed, especially when a dog is cross-bred, is challenging in court.
"Breed bans are indefensible. It gives us a false sense of security," he said.
Pointing to testimony from a committee meeting, Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, said he understood there were 38 breed-specific bans across Arkansas.
"If they can't" stand up to scrutiny in court, "why do we have 38?" he asked.
Wing said that when challenged in court, breed-specific bans ordinances have fallen. He pointed to three breed bans across the country that were defeated in court.
Rep. Jim Wooten, R-Beebe, opposed the bill, saying it would dictate regulations to elected city officials.
"They're closer to the people than we are," he said. "Let them make this decision."
Rep. Mark Berry, R-Ozark, said "media hysteria" had created negative perceptions of certain dog breeds. Before pit bulls, Berry said, other breeds, including Doberman pinschers and German shepherds, were branded as vicious.
Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, opposed the bill, saying that as a prosecutor he tried cases involving pit bull attacks. As a result of the attacks, Gazaway said the cities he represented enacted bans against pit bulls.
"To my knowledge, they have not been challenged to this day," he said. "These breeds are inherently dangerous. They're inherently aggressive. They are by their nature capable of producing fatalities."
Gazaway and other opponents of the bill cited statistics contending pit bulls are responsible for a majority of reported dog bites.
A House member could still make a motion to expunge the vote on the measure. After the meeting, Hawk said he was unsure if that was the best route to pursue. He said he wanted to avoid bringing the bill back up only to have it voted down again.