Veto revives debate over Big Isle pet control
HILO » Big Island Mayor Harry Kim has vetoed an animal control bill, saying it is vague and unenforceable.
"The bill mandates that all police officers, from the chief on down to patrol officers, have the responsibility of seizing any unlicensed dog found running at large, then selling or killing said animal," Kim said in his veto message to the Hawaii County Council.
"The Police Department is strapped for personnel, and making this a mandatory function will take away from more critical enforcement activities," Kim said.
But Pete Hoffmann, the new chairman of the council, said he thinks the bill has merits and he'll put it on the Jan. 4 council agenda for a possible veto override.
The controversy is as much about political philosophy, and even about dog lovers versus cat lovers, as it is about animal control.
Councilman Bob Jacobson said he introduced the first proposal to revise animals laws in 2005. He simply wanted to control barking, biting and loose dogs.
But as a Green Party member, Jacobson was often in the minority, even though the council is theoretically nonpartisan. His animal control bill was put aside and replaced by a wide-ranging majority bill, which passed 8-1, with only Jacobson voting against it.
"Dogs are killing chickens, pigs, goats and sheep. We need to hold the owners responsible," Jacobson said. "My cats aren't out there killing animals."
Fred Holschuh, a former councilman who failed to win reelection in September, introduced the bill that passed. Holschuh said hunters with dogs saw the bill as a burden, and insisted a burden be put on cat owners, too. So the bill calls for cats to have identifying microchips placed in them.
Police, the county prosecutor's office and others opposed the bill as unenforceable.
For example, the bill calls for police to make the difficult decision of whether a dog's barking is "reasonable" or "unreasonable," Jacobson said.
Holschuh said critics should be reasonable. If the police chief sees a dangerous dog, he wouldn't have to grab the dog himself. He could call the Humane Society, Holschuh said.
Four of the nine council seats changed hands in recent elections, and Jacobson is now part of a new majority, so his proposal would not necessarily be voted down again 8-1.
But Hoffmann, who leads the new majority, supports the vetoed bill. It's better than what is on the books, he said, and any flaws can be changed later.