JEFFERSON CITY — Two years after Springfield voters rejected a city pit bull ban, Missouri lawmakers are looking to end breed-specific rules everywhere else.
A bill prohibiting breed-specific bans won initial approval in the House on Wednesday with support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, said rules targeting certain dog breeds unfairly punish dogs and their owners regardless of their individual behavior.
"A lot of studies show, and experts across the whole nation agree," he said. "Behavior is very specific to the dog or the dog owner, not the breed."
Or as Rep. Sonya Anderson, R-Springfield, said: "It's the deed, not the breed."
A number of lawmakers on the other side of the aisle happily agreed.
Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, said he knows Gregory and Anderson are right from personal experience with a breed some see as naturally vicious.
"I have 9-year-old daughter, and I also have a 90-pound pit that I found on the street," he said. "He sleeps in the bed with my daughter."
Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, added that rules targeting pit bulls and similar breeds are also difficult to enforce. Other breeds like Boston terriers have similar features, such as "blocky" heads, she said.
She also noted that the bill would still allow cities to ban individual dogs determined to be dangerous; they just wouldn't be able to blacklist an entire group.
"When you have a dog that's a part of your family and has shown no inclination at all to hurt anybody, to just discriminate against that dog because it looks like a certain breed is wrong," Burnett said.
The bill will need another vote in the House before moving to the Senate.
If it is ultimately enacted, it would preempt rules in dozens of Missouri cities, including those still on Springfield's books enacted in 2006 after widely publicized biting attacks.
Springfield owners of pit bulls or pit bull mixes must have their pets spayed or neutered, microchipped, registered and under control at all times. Owners must also have signs on their property notifying people that a pit bull is present.
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department provided data to the Springfield City Council in 2016 showing that under the restrictions, there have been fewer bites attributed to pit bulls and fewer pit bulls coming into the shelter and being euthanized.
The statistics noted one caveat, though: The health department’s computer system did not differentiate by breed prior to 2010, so numbers from 2005 to 2010 were estimates.
After the City Council enacted stricter policies prohibiting new pit bulls, residents gathered thousands of signatures to trigger a referendum, and voters overwhelmingly voted to repeal the measures.
The legislation is House Bill 2241.