By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Animal shelters lost a legal challenge to Missouri's licensing requirements Tuesday as the Missouri Supreme Court allowed an annual charge of up to $2,500 to remain in place.
An attorney for some nonprofit animal shelters had argued that the fees enacted two years ago are causing "financial stress" by diverting money to the state that could otherwise go toward caring for homeless dogs and cats.
But state Supreme Court case rested largely on technical grounds. Animal shelters had claimed that a 2011 law raising the fees should be invalidated because of procedural flaws in the way the Missouri Legislature passed a 2010 law that allowed fees previously charged to animal breeders to also be charged to shelters.
The Supreme Court rejected that chain-reaction argument. Instead, the court said that the challenge to the 2010 law was moot because lawmakers had repealed it while enacting a new version the next year.
The lawsuit had been brought by the Humane Society of the United States and two nonprofit organizations, Dogwood Animal Shelter Inc. in Osage Beach and Stray Rescue of St. Louis Inc.
"The Humane Society's position is rejected because it would produce an absurd result," the court said in a unanimous opinion written by Judge Patricia Breckenridge. "As urged by the Humane Society, a procedural defect in the enactment of a statute could never be corrected by repealing and re-enacting the allegedly unconstitutional provision."
The Supreme Court's decision upheld an August 2012 ruling by Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce, who had also declared the legal challenge moot.
The animal groups claimed that the 2010 law subjecting shelters to state licensing fees violated a provision in the state constitution that prohibits lawmakers from changing the bill's original purpose. As introduced, the 2010 bill dealt with state licensing for people who use explosive devices. The final version was expanded to include sections related to animals and agriculture.
The lawsuit contended that the 2010 law served as a basis for further changes in 2011, when a bill raised the maximum licensing fee from $500 to $2,500 for commercial breeders, kennels and animal shelters
The dispute over animal shelters is a byproduct of Missouri's efforts to regulate the dog-breeding industry. Legislators passed a measure expanding licensing fees in May 2010 in advance of a November 2010 ballot initiative pushed by the Humane Society that toughened requirements for commercial dog breeders.
After voters adopted the ballot initiative, legislators in 2011 repealed key parts of it and enacted their own new regulations as part of a compromise with Gov. Jay Nixon's administration.
Follow David A. Lieb at: http://www.twitter.com/DavidALieb