Lesniak Fails to Muster Votes to Override Christie Veto of Puppy Mill Measure

Colleen O'Dea | May 26, 2017 | More Issues
Senator’s impassioned appeal not enough to push through bill that would strengthen restrictions on pet shops, breeding facilities

puppy mill
Once again, an effort to override a gubernatorial veto — this one of a bill to strengthen the state’s ban on puppy mills — has failed in the Senate.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a prime sponsor of S-3041, made an impassioned plea on Thursday for senators to override Gov. Chris Christie’s conditional veto earlier this month of the bill that would impose tough restrictions and harsh penalties on pet shops and dealers selling animals from large facilities that breed puppies and kittens in crowded, unsanitary, and even dangerous conditions.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would not vote for this override, unless they support puppy mills that breed dogs and cats in the most inhumane conditions you can imagine,” said Lesniak, the owner of two rescued dogs.

Invoking Ghandi and Pope Francis, Lesniak added, “None of us should be that heartless to allow that cruelty to continue.”

Will try again

But without any other debate, the override vote totaled 20-14. Even the six senators who did not vote on the bill would not have given the measure the 27 votes needed for an override. Lesniak pulled the bill from consideration, which means he could try again.

Lesniak posted on his Facebook page shortly after the vote a list of 19 senators, including five Democrats, who did not vote for the override and said he pulled the bill “so I can attempt another override at any future Senate meeting until January 10, 2018.” Hoping to put pressure on the no votes,

Lesniak added, “As soon as we can get five of these to change their votes, I’ll put it up for a vote again hoping that would bring along two others.”

While Lesniak was disappointed, pet shop owners and breeders, who had staged a last-minute push to get lawmakers to sustain the veto, were pleased.

They had argued that the bill would make it harder for New Jerseyans to buy pets and could hurt smaller, hobby breeders — those offering only one or a handful of litters a year, often from their homes.

“Overriding Governor Christie’s veto is tantamount to putting your constituents out of work, and undermining the pet protection law that was enacted just two years ago,” said Cindy Knowles, who owns the Furrylicious pet shop in Whitehouse Station. “Our four-legged friends deserve better than being put at risk by misguided legislation.”

“Pet professionals, cat and dog lovers, and pets can breathe easier for another day,” said Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council president Mike Bober. “S3041 offers almost none of the pet and consumer protections claimed by proponents, and risked the closure of ethical partners in pet care across the state.”

Christie’s conditional veto said it was too early to tell if the Pet Purchase Protection Act put in place two years ago as a way to stop puppy mills from selling animals in New Jersey was working. He also said Lesniak’s bill went too far and could be unconstitutional.

The bill’s proponents said the governor’s CV is essentially a veto, gutting the protections the bill seeks to put in place. They contend the measure is necessary because New Jersey pet stores are still selling animals from puppy mills.

Penalties up to $20,000

Current law, signed by Christie, imposes a $500 penalty for violations. Lesniak’s bill seeks to increase that to as much as $20,000; it also seeks the loss of license to operate in New Jersey for a third violation of the law.

Christie said the bill’s reporting requirements were onerous, while advocates said that simply requiring a hobby breeder selling 10 animals or more to fill out a state report is hardly burdensome.

Christie suggested changes to the bill that he called sensible, but Lesniak said they would have gutted it.

Overrides of Christie vetoes during his more than seven years in office have been elusive, with Democrats unable to get the required number of votes at any time, despite more than 50 tries. Only rarely have any Republicans voted to disagree with Christie’s vetoes, and never in numbers large enough to send the leader of their party a defeat.

Unlike some others, Lesniak’s bill did not get enough votes to override a veto on its initial passage, with just the bare minimum 21 senators voting yes. Three Democrats — Jeff Van Drew of Cape May, Ronald Rice of Essex, and Shirley Turner of Trenton — voted no originally on the bill and they voted against the override yesterday, as did virtually all Republicans. The only Republican supporting it on its initial passage was Diane Allen of Burlington and, according to Lesniak’s Facebook account, she also voted to override Christie.