By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio senators have advanced a long-standing proposal to regulate dog breeding facilities, one of several measures aimed at changing the state's reputation for having some of the most lax animal regulations in the country.
Ohio's animal ownership laws came under nationwide scrutiny in October when law enforcement officers were forced to shoot 49 exotic animals after their owner released them from a Zanesville farm, touching off a panic in the surrounding area.
The incident helped refocus attention on Ohio's animal regulation, including legislation that would regulate dog breeding facilities. Senators voted 30-0 on Wednesday to advance the measure to the state House.
Ohio, which remains one of only a handful of states that permit dog auctions and has no regulations on dog breeding or selling, would become the 34th state to regulate the dog breeding industry if the measure becomes law.
"The state of Ohio has acquired the reputation as one of the worst states for puppy mills," said Senator Jim Hughes, the bill's sponsor. "The problem is that bad breeders came to Ohio after the surrounding states passed laws before we did."
The measure would create a committee to draft standards of care for kennels and require inspection of breeding facilities.
Animal rights groups raised some concerns about the measure Hughes has been working on for seven years.
"It doesn't answer the issues," said Mary O'Connor-Shaver, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Ban Ohio Dog Auctions.
O'Connor-Shaver objects to plans that would have the state agricultural department regulate the dog breeding industry, saying the agency is more focused on livestock regulation than oversight of companion animals.
Another concern, she said, is that the majority of the committee that drafts the standards also would be comprised of representatives from retail pet stores and commercial breeding interests.
A ballot initiative asking Ohio voters to ban dog auctions has been certified for the November election if lawmakers do not enact a ban.
(Editing by David Bailey and Paul Thomasch)