Amy Meyer: Legislature should allow local government to control ‘animal enterprises’

Bill would not allow cities to enforce their own standards for animal treatment.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Senate on the last night of the legislative session, in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Utah legislators often claim they care deeply about principles of local control when the topic is public lands, water management or education. But a dangerous bill working its way through the Utah Legislature reveals that local control isn’t a principle Utah legislators actually care much about.

SB113, sponsored by Sen. Scott Sandall, would prohibit any city or county government from passing regulations pertaining to any “animal enterprise.” If it became law, this bill would erase a lot of the progress Utah has made for animals at the local level and make impossible many future gains that could be made, even those which would be popularly supported by their community.

Take for instance, Salt Lake City’s ban on horse-drawn carriages. In August 2013, I photographed a horse named Jerry who collapsed on State Street while pulling a carriage in sweltering 98-degree heat. Jerry subsequently died.

My photographs of Jerry’s final moments, lying on the scorching asphalt of State Street, quickly went viral in the local and national media, prompting outrage. The Salt Lake City Council responded to public concern by launching an investigation, which revealed that multiple unreported horse carriage accidents had occurred in Salt Lake City, leading to deaths of other horses and in one case, a hospitalized child.

There were multiple City Council hearings about this issue and extensive discussion in local media. I attended many of these hearing where Salt Lake City residents weighed in on both sides and made their voices heard. Equine veterinarians were also consulted and provided expert opinions. This is how our democratic process is supposed to function.

At the end of this process, the Salt Lake City Council voted 7-0 to ban horse-drawn carriages. If SB113 becomes law, our city’s extensive and thorough deliberative process will be for nothing, and we won’t be able to decide what fits for our own community. This is undemocratic, unprincipled and wrong.

Salt Lake City decided to remove horse carriages from city streets because our downtown environment has congested vehicular traffic, TRAX lines and dense crowds of people. This makes for a problematic environment for horses, which are easily spooked.

Sandall, the sponsor of SB113, represents Box Elder County, where the largest town is Brigham City, population 19,000. His community won’t have all, or the same, dangers for animals. He shouldn’t sponsor a bill that forces a one-size-fits-all policy.

Horse carriages would only be the tip of the iceberg, too. SB113 says that an “animal enterprise” includes any business that “sells animals or animal products for profit.” This language is incredibly broad and would have unseen unintended consequences.

Could the county health department continue to regulate and inspect restaurants that sell meat? Could any business evade local regulations they dislike by transforming themselves into a so-called “animal enterprise” by offering some beef jerky for sale? There is no clear standard in the bill, so any business that “sells animal products,” no matter how few, qualifies for special state protection.

SB113 would almost surely spawn a lot of litigation, as cities and courts try to sort out a confusing mess. SB113 is going to cause more problems than it solves, and the Legislature needs to pump the brakes on this reactionary, unnecessary bill.

Amy Meyer

Amy Meyer lives in Salt Lake City and is a Director of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition.