Dispatch from 'The Lip': Dog ordinance passes; an ugly, unforgettable night

I wasn’t in Council chambers five minutes Tuesday night before Steve Haag, director of the Republican caucus, approached me, sweating a little bit and clearly ready to talk. As of 5:45 p.m., he began, Republicans had not seen the draft of the dangerous dog ordinance that Cheri Bryant Hamilton (D-5) and other Council Democrats had spent the last 48 hours working on, with, of course, legal assistance from the County Attorney’s office. Hamilton offered the new ordinance as a substitute for what the Council had planned to vote on.

Tony Hyatt, director of communications for the Democratic caucus, said the Republicans could’ve reviewed the 34 changes proposed in Hamilton’s substitute ordinance from 1 p.m. today until the 6 p.m. meeting; the implication was that they had simply chosen not to.

Haag accused Democrats of making the issue “hyper-political” — the anger in his voice and the speed with which he talked were almost unsettling. Within minutes, Haag produced a sheet of Republican amendments, 156 of them, each intended to make its way into the public record this evening, if this fuck-all track session of politicized tomfoolery goes down like that.

And it does. Shortly before 4 a.m., and nearly 50-deep in amendments (Kelly Downard, R-16, led the stampede after the Democrats displayed their clear, fairly arrogant intent to bully Hamilton’s substitution into law), the Metro Council passed a dog ordinance. The Republicans gave up after nine hours of grueling line-by-line amendments.

By midnight, the bickering in chambers had devolved into something worthy of an elementary schoolyard. The scene was ridiculous and unbecoming of our elected representatives, who at times criticized each other’s very ability to legislate. One particularly testy exchange between Jim King (D-10) and Council President Kevin Kramer (R-11) had King challenging Kramer’s ability to shape and control the nature of the discussion; the implication that Kramer wasn’t doing his job was obvious. Naturally, it pissed Kramer off, and he retorted with bold, sharp language.

Hal Heiner (R-19), much earlier in the night, had called the manner in which Democrats were handling this, at the 11th hour and with but a single public reading (everyone ultimately agreed that the substitution didn’t get out until 4:55 p.m. for the six o’clock meeting), a disservice to the citizens of Louisville. King suggested it’s “disingenuous” to suppose that the time the full Council received Hamilton’s substitution in some way affected their ability to vote on the ordinance. As King said, the changes Hamilton made at the last minute — it’s not entirely clear that all Council members had the ordinance in-hand an hour before tonight’s meeting — aren’t that different than what was already on the table.

Yes, this process stunk as bad as Swift & Co. on a bald summer day.

As for the ordinance, it’s not the one everybody wanted; hell, it’s not really the one anybody wanted, but it was good enough to work for more than half of the Council. The vote was 16-8, largely along party lines, with Heiner the only “defecting” Republican. The ordinance now lacks its most specifically troubling component, breed-specific legislation, which called out pit bulls for being more dangerous, aggressive and generally menacing than any other dog. It was ridiculous, lacked historical perspective (what about the menace of rottweilers a few years ago?) and ultimately left the city open to lawsuits and, perhaps more importantly in this case, didn’t please enough Democrats to get a majority vote.

It will, however, require every pet owner to have his or her pet spayed/neutered, or pay much higher annual license fees.

Every veterinarian is required to report to Metro Animal Services the vaccination records of their clients; MAS can then hound pet owners into complying with laws they’re possibly breaking.

There will be lawsuits, and Republicans — especially Downard — have said they intend to continue to examine the ordinance, hear from constituents like hunters and sportsmen, and take it up again in January.

In my story about this matter that appears in LEO’s print edition today — written and filed hours before last night’s Council meeting — I floated the idea that the dog ordinance would become the Metro Council’s Moby Dick, an elusive and ultimately vain pursuit that will never resolve itself fully and which may wind up extending the 13 months we’ve already seen of absurdly overstretched deliberation. What it came down to early this morning was politics —Democrats shaking their fists out of frustration and a desire to move forward, Republicans scratching and tearing at every bit of that fabric until — nine hours later — nobody could keep focused.

Any way you look at it, this has become a low point, a fantastic display of the dismal possibilities of partisanship in local politics. An ugly, unforgettable night.

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