NASHVILLE August is six months away, but the Tennessee Legislature already is stuck in dog days with two pending bills to change state canine laws.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, introduced a bill to require pickup drivers to restrain dogs riding in the truck beds with leashes or carriers. He said he wants to protect pooches and other drivers.
Rep. Joe Fowlkes, D-Memphis, wants to weaken a 103-year-old law that he says has recently been used to harass owners whose dogs stray onto someone else's property.
Lawmakers are bracing for howls of protest from constituents.
You just mention the word dog up here and you get a barrage of phone calls, said Rep. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis.
I think we've got more important things to do down here than deal with a bunch of dog bills like health care and nursing home fires, said Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston. I think you can trust dog owners to be respectful. And people don't want more government rules.
Dunn said since he's introduced his bill, a number of people told him stories of dogs jumping out of trucks and being run over or being strangled by leashes.
He compared his proposal to a state law that requires gravel trucks to cover their cargo with a tarp to prevent the gravel from showering motorists.
If we don't want gravel coming out of the back of trucks and hitting cars, we don't want dogs coming out of the back of trucks and hitting cars, he said.
The bill exempts dogs being used in hunting and has been amended in subcommittee so that a first offense would get only a warning.
Rep. John Tidwell, D-New Johnsonville, said Dunn's legislation would absolutely destroy the way people live with their animals.
Quite frankly, the dog's job when you go to the shopping center, when you go to the feed mill, is to protect the truck and what's in it, he said.
Fowlkes said his bill would modify an existing law that levies a misdemeanor criminal penalty on pet owners whose dogs roam on someone else's property or a public road or street.
People are using this to harass dog owners, Fowlkes said. It is an open door to abuse.
Fowlkes said his bill requires that the dog repeatedly trespass and that the landowner give notice to the dog owner before any prosecution can take place.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill requiring law enforcement officers to be trained in dealing with dogs. The bill was prompted by the fatal shooting of a dog by a Cookeville police officer after it left the car during a traffic stop.