Legislation is a key avenue advocates use to effect change for animals, but there isn’t much research about how to choose tractable issues and lobby for them successfully. Nonprofit research organization Faunalytics has released a new study which found evidence that local laws can be an effective way to implement animal welfare protections, and could lead to great success at the state level.
Read the full study here: https://faunalytics.org/local-action-as-stepping-stone/
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.
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.
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.
Successes & Challenges
Local laws can sometimes create meaningful change at the state level. Success is far from guaranteed, but this review found evidence of states taking into account local laws and resolutions during discussion of bills on animal topics including battery cages, gestation crates, veal crates, foie gras, and meat reduction. Some of those attempts failed, but they suggest that at the bare minimum, states will generally consider local examples, even outside of their own state.
This research encompassing all fifty U.S. states found evidence suggesting that when similar laws are widely adopted across multiple municipalities, it appears to increase the chances of passing related state laws. In the strongest example, over 400 municipalities passed their own ordinances banning puppy mill sales and the widespread support from many municipalities supported five states passing statewide bans on puppy mill sales within the past six years.
The biggest barrier to creating change from the ground up is state preemption of local laws. While existing preemptions—which are particularly common for laws around animal farming—pose a major hindrance to progress, the worst-case scenario is for opponents of animal protection fight back against legislation by bringing a state bill to preempt pro-animal local ordinances, as occurred in the case of Puppies ’N Love v. City of Phoenix, 2017.
Some opponents may also bring lawsuits against the city enforcing the ordinance. While this is a concerning possible outcome to consider, we found that it is a relatively rare outcome to date, having occurred in only four examples we reviewed. Even in instances where there is a lot of support for animal protection actions like banning puppy mill sales—which accounted for two of the four examples—there may also be strong pushback from opponents of the bill.
An additional option for local governments is to file resolutions to advance the community’s position on specific animal topics. Resolutions have no legal or binding effect on law, so additional research is needed into whether they cause a meaningful shift in citizen or corporate behavior in the locality itself, but regardless of that impact, they may bring awareness to state legislators about a particular issue. If a state legislature fails to act upon the resolution, local governments can reissue another one the following year.
Resolutions may be particularly helpful when multiple cities file resolutions addressing the same topic. It can show there is widespread support or concern about an issue, which may inspire legislators to focus on passing specific legislation at the state level—though again, more research is needed.
Throughout this review, we have also made note of city ordinances and local initiatives that may influence state law in the future. While state legislators may not look to these local efforts unless a person or organization is lobbying for similar legislation, they provide evidence of a city’s position on a particular issue, and it can be used for future state legislation. Bringing existing ordinances to the attention of state representatives can be part of efforts to introduce legislation.
A Senior Policy Advisor representing an international nonprofit animal protection organization noted that the legislative environment between state and local governments varies widely, which can make it difficult to predict whether a bill will pass at the state level (Personal communication, August 5, 2022). Yet, advocates can gain insightful information if a bill fails to pass during the process by either talking to legislators or with members of the committee where the bill died. Legislators may even release reports or participate in interviews to discuss why the bill did not pass.
Overall, this review supports the idea that local laws and initiatives can influence state bills with positive animal impacts, which recommends it as a pathway for grassroots advocates to become involved in making systemic change. Lobbying local legislators and supporting initiatives creates momentum in communities that may be helpful to those working for state-level progress, as submitting this type of information informs state legislators that other jurisdictions have passed similar laws, which conveys an impression of support and gives them information to draw upon when considering whether it would be beneficial for their state to adopt it. Including mentions of local ordinances and/or local initiatives in addition to other evidence or arguments can strengthen the influence of passing a bill. Additionally, participating in the local legislative process and supporting other cities in passing these types of laws at the local level can advance animal interests when the state cannot or will not provide such protection.
It is important for advocates working at the state level to build relationships with local council members as well as state legislators in order to improve communication and transparency between these groups. Approaching legislators who are from cities that have passed similar ordinances to the proposed state bill may also be influential. Advocates may gain a greater understanding of the likelihood a state bill will pass and legislators can additionally offer advice to ensure advocates are successful in other jurisdictions.