Bessemer PA: The inside story

There have been a few news stories coming out of Bessemer Pennsylvania this past week. There have been several reports in the papers that officials updated a 20+ year old breed discriminatory law that is in direct violation of current state law that forbids municipalities from enacting or maintaining a breed discriminatory ordinance.

The story from media reports was that officials were brought the issue of dangerous dogs when a resident complained about a couple of dogs initially identified as pit bulls.  The dogs turned out to be boxers.  In response to this incident and the concerns of the resident, officials took a look at their laws and altered them.

Media reports claim that officials raised the bond to own a pit bull from $5,000 to $10,000 as well as raising the annual license fees for keeping pit bulls. They now range from $175 per year for one dog to $1,100 for three. The previous scale was $100 to $1,000 annually. There was also a $75 application fee to get the license that was raised from $50.  Fines for violating the ordinance were raised from $300 to $500.  It was also reported that Rottweilers were added to the ordinance.

The real story turns out to be much more interesting and complex than a simple voting to raise fees.

As it turns out this ordinance was not officially passed in Bessemer when it was thought to have been.  The ordinance had never been ratified at the time it was initially introduced.

When the resident brought the issue of dangerous dogs before the council, the council responded by looking into what laws were already on the books and how these laws could help to alleviate the problem brought to them.  This led to the discovery of the “current” law not actually being law. When the Council became aware of this, Council President John Kleim brought the legislation forward to have it made official. When the meeting took place, the Council unanimously voted to ratify the old law and update the fee structure.

It is as yet unconfirmed whether or not Rottweilers were added to the ordinance.  Media report have made the claim but we have no confirmation at this time that this is true.  Also unconfirmed is whether officials had been enforcing this ordinance during the time the state law has been in effect.  Had they been enforcing, it that would mean that they were enforcing an ordinance that not only goes against state law but also was not technically enacted locally and therefore not legal to enforce.

The council now understands that what they passed is not legal under PA state law.  Officials have expressed regret for passing something that is illegal.  Inside sources say that Council President John Kleim has asked the Mayor to veto the ordinance.  He has also stated that if the Mayor does not veto it, the Council will be striking it at the next meeting.

Even though the ordinance was set to take effect July 1, 2013, officials have said the ordinance will not be enforced because it goes against state law.

Incidentally, even if PA state law had a grandfather clause, because Bessemer’s law had never been ratified, it would not have been protected by a grandfather clause.  The legislation would have been considered new, and as such illegal.  This is a moot point because PA state law does not include any exemptions from the prohibition against breed discriminatory laws.

This issue should be resolved shortly.  When officials have repealed the ordinance we will report accordingly.

The question should be posed, was this a deliberate act by news outlets to get a more sensational story?  The facts behind this could have been very easily uncovered with a simple phone call.  Instead, reports have roundly ignored the intention to void this legislation either via Mayoral veto or through Council action.  Also noticeably absent from reports is any mention of state law that prohibits municipalities from enacting a breed discriminatory law.  This is another case of why we should not take news reports at face value and reserve judgement for when the whole story is finally revealed.

Thank you Hello Bully for the information.

One response to “Bessemer PA: The inside story

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