Banning Self-Governance in Rhode Island


I know the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution does not apply to the relationship between a state and its municipalities, but shouldn’t the spirit of it be kept? The text of the 10th Amendment is:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Basically the states can legislate anything that isn’t spelled out in the US Constitution. States have rights to govern themselves. Wouldn’t it make sense for that same concept to apply between a state and its municipalities? For example, when it comes to allowing dog breed bans?

I’m not arguing one way or the other for bans of a specific breed of dog. That isn’t the point. My point is that each city or town should have the right to create an ordinance to do it if they want to.

However, in their infinite wisdom, our General Assembly feels that it is a good use of their time to do otherwise. House Bill 5671 and Senate Bill 1011 would remove the municipalities ability to create a breed-specific ban on dogs.

My next question on this would be one of risk assessment. In my field of work, we assess risk and determine what are the odds of an event happening, what would the damage be if it does happen and what steps have we taken to reduce the likelihood of that event. If we know that a particular event is pretty likely, we take steps to reduce the possibility or properly set up infrastructure to deal with it when it does happen.

Clearly, a city like Pawtucket is aware that pit bulls are targeted by some owners to be trained wrong and train them to be aggressive. Again, my opinion is not about the dog, it’s about the lawmakers. Pawtucket assessed the risk, believed there was a high likelihood of someone getting bit or mauled by a pit bull and took steps to reduce that risk. The risk is known. Now the state has stepped in and tied the city’s hands. Eliminated the city’s ability to handle the risk, or to protect themselves.

My question now is if this law passes and the Pawtucket ban on pit bulls is reversed and then someone gets bit by an untrained or poorly trained pit bull in Pawtucket, is the state liable? If left alone, Pawtucket had the ban in place and the risk was reduced. If you know a risk is probable and remove protections from that risk, don’t you increase your own liability?

Let’s hope we never have to find out.

  • John

    Maybe Pawtucket needs an ordinance to prevent local police from enforcing a search warrant against drug dealers and be required to call in the State Police. Then the state's officers can be the ones at risk of being mauled by these creatures!

  • Warrington Faust

    Since this proposed legislation did not spring full blown in the collective mind of the legislature, like Venus from a Cypriot sea; one wonders who is lobbying for this. It also suggests that the legislature, or someone in it, has too much time on their hands.

  • SGH

    The liability falls on the owner, as always, and as it always should. If an animal is untrained, poorly-trained, or abused, it's the owner's fault. The problem with pit bulls is that they tend to attract bad owners, the kind of people who mistreat their dogs. Before that it was dobermans, before that it was German shepherds. BSL has always been about treating the symptom (dogs likely to be mistreated by bad owners) rather than the actual problem (the bad owners).

    Under Pawtucket's legislation, risk wasn't actually reduced, it just meant that that risk wasn't coming in the form of pit bulls. Any other type of dog can be abused and mistreated and trained improperly and do just as much damage as any pit bull. Nothing was stopping a bad owner from buying a bulldog or a doberman or a mastiff, or even a random mutt and training that dog to be just as dangerous. Ultimately, if Pawtucket had really wanted to reduce risk of being injured by strong dogs, they should've restricted ownership of dogs to small lap dogs.

    Beyond that though, cities really don't have much protection from the state. It's odd to apply the 10th Amendment to the municipality-state relationship, because the 10th Amendment allows the states to be as dictatorial within their boundaries as they want, as long as they stay in the bounds of the Constitution. A state that created such a constitution that gave cities a 10th Amendment-like article would be ceding a large amount of power to its municipalities. Unless those municipalities were forming a new state, it seems unlikely that a state would willingly weaken its authority; especially if it meant that municipalities could circumvent it in the way it might circumvent the government.

  • Patrick

    SGH, yes of course the owner of the dog is still primarily liable, but when it comes to lawyers, they go after everyone with deep pockets who holds some culpability. The city tried to cover themselves with their risk assessment but then the state is trying to override that. This is Pawtucket saying it's a risk they don't want to take and it's the state saying "nah, it's fine, no worries" Lawyers go after those with deepest pockets and the state has much deeper than some guy who owns a poorly/improperly trained pit bull.

  • John

    Okay, it's the bad owners. So, if (when) a pitbull that is mistreated attacks and mauls or kills an innocent person, we don't put down the dog, we put down the owner? Yeah, that'll do it!

    You see, the dog protectors just keep bitching that there needs to be better enforcement of the laws, but even when the laws are in place, they are decided by liberal judges that give out slaps on the wrist. Criminal assault and manslaughter charges are what needs to be applied to the owner, then maybe we'll see some change, no matter what the breed.

  • Dan

    Patrick – If one could recover damages by suing the state of Rhode Island for passing harmful laws, I would be a much richer man than I am today.

  • Warrington Faust

    Just a passing thought about bad owners. I grew up in the German Shepard era, before "leash laws". There were always a few people who kept Alsatians penned in the yard. As I recall, the pen was usually close enough to the street that passersby would be annoyed, but not attacked. I seem to recall "dog bite cases", but not anyone I actually knew. Mostly, stray dogs were friends you hadn't met. The area was quite suburban where people simply "let out the dog", unaccompanied dogs were frequently encountered. "Angry" dogs seemed to keep their distance and bark, but not attack. They were usually alone, "pack behavior" might have been different. Most dogs encountered were hounds and not one of the vicious breeds. We usually waited for them to try to make friends. ____So, I am wondering, is it the wall to wall news coverage that gives the impression of more dog attacks? Or, are there simply more "bad owners"? In urban areas, such as Pawtucket, breeds are probably selected for "protection" rather than companionship. My Weimaraner would leap into my lap for protection at the least sound.