Miami-Dade County’s longstanding breed ban will remain in place for now. Voters in the August 14 county primaries voted 37% to 63% to keep the ban.
Although at first glance it seems like a disappointing outcome, there’s reason to have hope that the ban will eventually be repealed. To come away with a more positive outlook, we’d like to share with you a brief history of this monumental and unprecedented repeal effort so you can understand where it all began—and where it can go in the future.
For 23 years, Miami-Dade County has banned “pit bulls” (American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and any dog that looks like one).
Florida state law prohibits municipalities from passing or enforcing BSL. However, the state law grandfathers in (allows) ordinances that were in place prior to October 1, 1990. The state law specifically makes an exception for Miami-Dade’s breed ban.
2012 Legislative Session
Early in the 2012 Florida legislative session, Representative Carlos Trujillo and Senator Jim Norman filed HB 997 / SB 1322. These bills would have deleted the grandfather clause from state law, removing the special exemption for Miami-Dade and forcing the county to repeal its breed ban.
The bills moved smoothly through the legislative process, clearing several committees, and looked like good candidates for passage.
Miami-Dade County commissioners, most of whom who wanted to keep the breed ban, were very concerned. The commissioners went to the legislature and promised to put the breed ban to a public vote if Trujillo put the brakes on the bill. The bills suddenly lost legislator support and became stalled at various stages.
StopBSL and many other groups were alarmed at the prospect of a public vote on the breed ban. We expected a public vote would not result in repeal (and commissioners doubtless felt the same way) because
- The public tends to vote with emotions and stereotype, not logic.
- Miami-Dade residents have not encountered a legally-owned “pit bull” in 23 years. Much of their experience with “pit bulls” is negative.
- Minority groups—in this case, “pit bull” owners—are at a disadvantage in “majority rules” votes, especially when there is no legal opportunity to dispel stereotypes about the minority group.
- The people who are most affected by the law—”pit bull” owners—cannot legally live in the county, are not residents, and therefore cannot vote on the fate of the law.
- County officials and the local news media have strong influence and are supportive of the ban.
- We predicted the poll question would be biased and confusing.
- Advocates for repeal had a mere 5 months to overcome all of these embedded and intractable issues.
Indeed, we saw many of these factors come into play over the next several months and throughout the voting period.
Advocates for repeal faced a monumental challenge: to build a coalition, acquire resources, and change public opinion almost overnight. The Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation took up the challenge with everything they had.
Considering the dire situation, we at StopBSL believe that the public vote results were amazing. Over 80,000 people voted to repeal Miami’s breed ban—one in three voters. MCABSL was also able to raise awareness in the county, unite repeal supporters, and get support from expert groups like the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association.
All this in five months. By contrast, major anti-BSL victories that we celebrated this year in Ohio and Massachusetts took 4+ years (and countless do-overs) to achieve.
Imagine if even a small fraction of those 80,000 people who voted for repeal were to show up at the next Miami-Dade County commissioner meeting. Imagine if those 80,000 Miami-Dade residents—along with all their supporters throughout Florida—contacted their state reps, protested the county’s discriminatory law, asked legislators to refile a bill like HB 997 / SB 1322.
Whether it’s another public vote, another legislative effort to remove Miami-Dade’s grandfather clause, or an effort to vote out pro-ban county commissioners—there are many possibilities to repeal the ban in the future.
However, it can’t be done without YOU. If you live in Florida, especially in or near Miami-Dade, you are a crucial piece of the effort. Please stay united and resolved in your efforts to repeal the breed ban.
Many, many thanks to the volunteers and groups, especially MCABSL, who were down in the trenches giving their all for this repeal effort. You accomplished an amazing feat despite the odds, and the support you gained over the last few months will certainly propel you to victory in the future.