The ill-conceived Bill 2590 to repeal the barking dogs law has brought in overwhelming evidence that the barking dogs law works and is giving much needed relief to residents of all backgrounds — as well as to the dogs.
The councilmembers who say that education is enough ignore testimony that in many cases barking problems stopped or diminished significantly when the law came into effect without the filing of a complaint. Recent letters to the editor testify that incessant barking has begun again since the repeal bill was approved by the council majority. These councilmembers also ignore testimony from people who said they tried to talk with their dog-owning neighbor, invited them to mediation and/or called the police and/or humane society prior to the law to no avail. After the law passed, the complaint and education process resolved the problem without any need for citation in 53 out of 71 cases — 75 percent of all the complaints.
The repealing councilmembers also ignored compelling testimony from the police and the Kauai Humane Society that the law is necessary to motivate some dog owners to address the problem.
Council Chair Rapozo wrote (TGI Aug. 9) that, “the courts have ruled that reliance on citizens to keep a record and log of a dog’s barking is not enough to prove that a person [the dog owner] is in violation of the law.” He concludes that the law, therefore, is defective. His statement is not true. There is no court ruling to that effect.
Both the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office, as well as police officers, were part of the drafting committee for the existing barking dogs law. Attorneys from these offices advised us that the rules of evidence allow a judge to make a decision based on evidence supported by a credible witness, and that a complainant could serve as a credible witness.
A loss in court could mean many things — that the dog owner was not guilty (then the law worked), or the dog owner was guilty but the judge didn’t find the prosecution’s witness to be credible, or the dog owner was guilty but the prosecuting attorney failed to provide evidence sufficient to convince the judge. It sometimes takes a prosecuting attorney time to learn how to best prosecute a new law. The only thing we can conclude from court losses is that the judge was not convinced, based on the evidence presented, that the law had been violated.
Repeal supporters have made a big issue about an innocent dog owner having to hire an attorney to defend himself in court. They overlook the fact that under the existing process, the dog owner can respond to the humane society without an attorney and either use the educational materials to stop his dog from barking incessantly or demonstrate to the humane society that his dog is not barking incessantly — way cheaper. In one case, an accused dog owner, with support from his neighbors, convinced the humane society that his dog was not barking incessantly; the humane society declined to cite. Repealing the law takes away the incentive to cooperate with this process, leaving a time-consuming and expensive civil suit as the only recourse.
Councilmembers supporting repeal have not shown that the law is defective. Therefore, how do we know what to amend? Even if there was a need to amend, based on experience with the repeal bill, how are we to trust that the process will be rational, fair and data-based? The rush to repeal instead of amend suggests that there is no consensus among the law’s critics as to how a new law would even work, which means, if repeal takes effect, we could end with no law for a long time or with a bad law in a short time.
We have a lot more pressing issues to work on than repealing and rewriting a law that is already working. Instead, we should focus on affordable housing, traffic, fair taxes and budget management and much more.
The barking dogs law is working — bringing relief to many residents by allowing them the quiet enjoyment of their home, with a fair process for dog owners. The process emphasizes education before regulation and doesn’t unduly burden our police department or courts. It would be a terrible mistake to repeal the existing barking dogs law. The mayor can show his leadership by vetoing Bill 2590.
JoAnn Yukimura is a member of the Kauai County Council.