Monday, January 16, 2012

Florida Animal Rescue Act (FARA) - Unfunded Mandate

Florida's Senate Bill 818 (Florida Animal Rescue Act) went to committee this week in Florida.  The sister bill in the House is HB597.  As I've previously discussed, CAPA and it's derivatives like FARA, are passed on the state level, they are without question an unfunded mandate.  It is irresponsible for state legislators to introduce and approve laws that they know will impact budgets of counties and cities that typically pay the costs of animal control.  I took the opportunity to listen to the public comment on this bill that is available on the Florida Senate website starting at 1:10:34.  I was heartened to hear so many that had done their research, and who understood the impact that this bill would have on shelters and rescues, not only the cost to localities but also the potential to harm animals. 

Here is just part of Senator Bennett's "scolding" to those constituents that took the time to provide public comment at that committee hearing:

"I make a motion that we TP this bill, but I want to say something before I do that. It's really a shame that we've got so many people that are concerned about a registry. The only good comment I heard was when somebody made a suggestion that we have a statewide registry, and that might be part of the problem, that we should have a statewide registry. People talk about costs, but nobody has shown me a single, not one, one study that shows what the cost is going to do and where it's going to go." - Senator Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton (1:50:30)
Isn't that what the comment portion of a committee is for?  Wow.  He also went on to suggest they talk to Manatee County about their costs expected as a result of going "no-kill".  I'm not sure what Manatee can provide being only a couple months into their policy change to "no-kill", but there are a couple communities that it is worthwhile comparing Florida counties with to provide an estimate of how costly this will be for many communities.

The Unfunded Mandate

Ultimately, intake is the driving number that impacts costs for any shelter.  Intake provides the number of animals that will be housed, fed, provided medical care, etc. 

I've previously discussed the Washoe County NV funding in comparison to our own Kent County SPCA.  As referenced in that post, it was noted that Nevada Humane, who works in concert with Washoe County Regional Animal Services, lost over $2 million in the last 3 years that are publicly reported (2007, 2008, 2009), and the fact that they have still not posted their 2010 numbers on Charity Navigator or Guidestar leads me to wonder how long they can sustain their current course. 

So I decided to compare a few Florida counties to both Washoe County and Austin Texas in regard to the funds they are paying out on a per animal basis as compared to various Florida counties.  If you listen to the hearing, Tallahassee provided an estimate of $1.2 million in additional costs and based on my analysis below, that is the lower side of the estimate.

Florida Counties Vs. "No-Kill" Communities Washoe County, NV & Austin, TX

As you can see from the above numbers, the Florida Animal Rescue Act would be costly to nearly every county across the state.  The fact that the Senator acted surprised by the additional cost estimate that Tallahassee provided, and stated that the staff analysis didn't estimate that much for the whole state doesn't encourage confidence in legislators.  Their staff merely needed to seach for the various numbers above, run the estimates, read how these communities have pursued their "no-kill" agenda.  For example, Austin went from 100 fostered pets to 900 fostered pets.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that food, vaccinations, medical care, and coordinators tracking the status of this amount of animals costs money. 

The shocking part to me was the committe members defense of Senator Bennett's harsh response to the citizens.  In almost every case the constituents acknowledged his good intentions.  The fact that they would think that constituents impacted should provide studies hire someone to do them if none are available was ridiculous.  So if a bank asks their legislator to pass a law that will make doing business easier for them, should the bank provide reasonable and accurate analysis that the legislator can use to proceed with for their own analysis, or do consumers have to band together and have studies done.  I guess that explains alot given what we have seen occur in the financial sector.   I used to think that was why legislators have staffs and fiscal analysts, so they can make an educated decision when voting on legislation.  Apparently I was really wrong to believe that, since neither Delaware or Florida did any kind of real fiscal analysis of CAPA or the derivative version called FARA.

Fortunately for the citizens of Florida, people from the shelters and the counties did step up and let your legislators know how costly this would be financially, and for the safety of animals.  We weren't as fortunate here in Delaware.  Unfortunately our Delaware counties don't comment on these kinds of unfunded mandates until they are faced with the consequences and want to place the blame elsewhere. There were those of us that had reservations about the intentions of this legislation from the start, but never imagined what a joke this law would become when it finally went into effect.  Hopefully Florida will have better sense and table this bill indefinitely.  Florida's legislator should understand how irresponsible it would be to subject communities, that have been slammed harder than most by foreclosures and lowering property values, with this unfunded mandate.