SALT LAKE CITY - Utah's House of Representatives his given the go-ahead to legislation that would block cities from restricting breeds of dogs within city limits.
The 75-member body voted 43-28 to approve the legislation, H.B. 97, on Thursday that aims to undo what 10 Utah cities, including Springville, have done to restrict breeds such as pit bulls in the state.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said eliminating one breed from a city would not reduce the amount of violent dogs in that area as he said it was impossible to predict which dogs would cause harm to the general public.
"You can't say that one particular breed of dog is overly aggressive over another dog," King said. "You just simply can't say that pit bulls as a breed are particularly more aggressive than any other breed."
King said cities attempting to restrict dog breeds was bad public policy and that it was time for the Legislature to step in and stop this from happening.
Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, opposed the bill. Lifferth, a former mayor and city council member of Eagle Mountain, said just as the lawmakers dislike it when the federal government tells them what to do, local cities dislike it when the Legislature dictates to them what they can and cannot do. He said that it was best to let the cities handle the issue on their own and not force a mandate upon them.
"Let us elect local officials and empower them to make ordinances and zoning laws, but then let us hold them accountable for their actions," Lifferth said.
Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, a veterinarian by profession, said the bill was hard for him because he has been a mayor and understands Lifferth's point but he said the problem with banning a specific breed like a pit bull is proving that it is actually a pit bull. He said pit bulls are a type of dog, but not a breed and said that it would be poor policy making to ban one breed of dog from a city.
"There is no way that we are going to legislate total safety in society," Mathis said.
One House member pointed out that the Legislature passes all kinds of laws that tell the cities what to do and that this legislation should not be treated any differently than those previous bills. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, said the legislature has approved of bills that tell cities what to do with billboards and idling cars.
"We do this all the time. So we have to think about what is important and how this will work," she said.
King argued there was an interest in having uniformity across the state on the issue. He worried someone may walk their dog from one city to another, which is a possibility in the more populated areas of the state, and may go from a city that allows a certain breed of dog into a city that bans that breed and then face a penalty.
King's argument apparently was enough as the bill passed. It now moves forward to the Senate for its consideration.
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