Mississippi state lawmakers have introduced a first-of-its-kind bill that would, in part, allow police officers, without a warrant, to enter any home where they believe a pit bull or other "dangerous dog" might be present.In addition, under House Bill 126, police may kill the animals if two of the following three factors apply:
- The dogs are "not under proper restraint when on the premises of its owner."
- They aren't wearing vaccination tags on their necks.
- They are still running around after "attempts to peacefully capture the dog have been made and proven unsuccessful."
The measure, also known as the Mississippi Regulation of Dangerous Dogs Act, is meant to "create civil and criminal penalties for failing to keep dangerous dogs securely confined and under restraint, and for failing to meet certain requirements designed to protect the public."
If the bill -- introduced Jan. 19 and sponsored by four Republican lawmakers -- becomes law, Mississippi would be alone in having this kind of state-wide discriminatory legislation specifically calling out pit bulls.
"This bill would make Mississippi the only state in the nation with a statewide policy discriminating against a specific dog breed, and the impact on local communities, animal shelters, and law enforcement would be disastrous," says Chloe Waterman, senior manager of state legislative strategy for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Dogs permitted by their owners to run loose, and dogs who attack people or other animals, pose a serious problem to public safety. But breed-specific dangerous dog laws are ineffective, inhumane and costly."
Of course, H.B. 1261 raises a slew of concerns on its own, especially the issue of warrantless searches and seizures.
"The fourth amendment clearly protects people from such actions," observes Kris Diaz, executive director of a group that advocates for breed-neutral legislation, who called attention to the Mississippi bill on her blog. "This bill effectively removes any protections people have from unreasonable search and seizure, and opens the door to using a dangerous dog claim as a way to scrutinize people for things they couldn’t otherwise get a warrant for."
University of Florida law professor Darren Hutchinson agrees.