Making BSL Illegal in South Dakota

May 12, 2014  


Back in 2011, a young lawyer named Jerry Sager wrote a touching article for StubbyDog describing how breed discriminatory laws had affected his family and his life. The good thing about Jerry is, he didn’t just sit and write about these laws, he went out and changed them!

Many of you may know that South Dakota recently added itself to the list of states that PROHIBIT their municipalities from passing breed discriminatory laws. Getting a BDL preemption bill passed, like the one in South Dakota, doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes months, and sometimes years, of preparation and lobbying. Jerry and his family were willing to put in the time and effort, and it all paid off.

We were able to catch up with him to congratulate him on his victory and here’s what he had to say about his journey.


“We researched everything we could think of; we wanted to learn every argument for and against breed-specific legislation. Every resource proved to be valuable, especially the data compiled by the National Canine Resource Council, the Animal Farm Foundation, and Best Friends Animal Society. We found it remarkable how many people had been working on this issue and how much research had already been conducted.

Eventually, after we felt we had a fairly good intellectual grip on the issue of breed-specific legislation, we brought the idea of a bill prohibiting breed-specific legislation to a few legislators with whom I was acquainted.  Being form South Dakota and having been a legislative intern in 2006, I am acquainted with a few legislators, so I reached out to some of them hoping to get a feel for what kind of response such a bill would receive and to see if any of them would be receptive enough to help me.  There was one Legislator in particular who did help a lot.  In fact, with her help we thought about proposing the bill last legislative session (year 2013).  She got the bill typed up and visited with quite a few legislators, but in the end, we got the sense that the bill was a concept basically no legislator had heard about and probably didn’t care about, or, because of the misconception of many things, like dog bite statistics and of pit bulls in general, they would not be supportive.  We were told that if we did propose the bill and the bill was badly defeated, then it would be nearly impossible for the bill to ever have success in the future.  It was a tough decision to wait until 2014, but in the end, it was the right decision.

In preparation for the 2014 session, I went to Pierre, SD and spent a week at the state capitol visiting with legislators about the potential bill and letting them know that they will have an opportunity to vote on the bill during the upcoming legislative session.  I knew that when I got the chance to visit with individual legislators that I wouldn’t have much time to visit, so, to help with my presentation, my wife and I created a colored brochure that explained the bill, explained what the bill would accomplish, and explained the importance of the bill.  I was able to personally visit with about half of the legislators.   Later, I sent a personal letter to each legislator.  After SB 75 passed, I was told by a legislator that the time I spent mingling with legislators the previous year was beneficial because the legislators remembered visiting with me.

My time at the Capitol basically set the stage for the 2014 legislative session.  My and my wife’s next step was to find a lobbyist and find a way to pay for a lobbyist.  Luckily, Best Friends Animal Society was able to help.  Because my wife and I had been pursuing this bill for a few years, I eventually became acquainted with Best Friends Animal Society’s Sr. Legislative Attorney, Ledy VanKavage.  Ledy and Best Friends have been instrumental in getting bills prohibiting breed-specific legislation passed in other states, and, therefore, they were naturally interested in my endeavor. Long story short, Ledy and Best Friends realized that my wife and I had done a significant amount of groundwork and, basically, the only thing we were missing was the lobbyist, and Best Friends was able to budget in our lobbyist!  We cannot thank Ledy and Best Friends enough.  In addition to paying for the lobbyist, Ledy was also able to come to Pierre, SD on multiple occasions to testify in both committee hearings, and her testimonies were outstanding.

Throughout this process, we learned that having a lobbyist is essential because, during the legislative session, the lobbyist is with the legislators every day and night and, because of that, has opportunities to talk to the legislators about the bill.  Legislators have many bills to think about and the lobbyist helps the legislators learn about the bills and the lobbyist also helps combat the negative remarks legislators hear about bills.  Without the lobbyist, the legislators might hear only one side, and it’ll probably be the side against the bill.

My advice for others considering getting a BDL preemption bill passed is to just get started. Do your homework and reach out to other individuals and organizations who appear to be supportive of the bill and whose support would be influential when the bill is in front of legislators. And finally, it may be a good idea to keep your goals and actions covert until the bill is introduced. You want to spend that time before the bill is introduced really focusing on your strategy, instead of having to play defense.”


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