Council doesnt ban wild circus animals, but does consider more regulations

The Minneapolis City Council narrowly rejected a proposed ban on wild circus animals, opting to instead consider a measure that would increase circus regulations and inspections.

Council Members Ralph Remington (10th Ward) and Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) proposed the ban because they say it would better align the law with the city’s policy against the inhumane treatment of animals, as well as protect circus goers against potential attacks by wild animals. The council voted 7-6 at its Sept. 21 meeting to substitute the ban on wild circus animals with an alternative ordinance proposed by Council Members Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) and Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) that sets more stringent standards for overseeing the care of the animals.

In addition to Ostrow and Hodges, the council members who voted for the alternative measure included Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) and Council Members Robert Lilligren (6th Ward), Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward).

Yet the council isn’t done debating the future of circuses in the city. While council members agreed by a slim majority that they preferred more regulations to a wild circus animal ban, they also voted 10-3 to send Ostrow and Hodges’ ordinance to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee for further review.

The proposal to increase circus regulations and inspections will undergo further scrutiny and more changes in that process. At the Sept. 26 Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee meeting, members directed staff to review a host of issues related to the ordinance and report back to the committee at its Nov. 28 meeting. Some of those issues include the cost of enforcing the ordinance and who will be responsible for examining the wild circus animals to ensure they are properly cared for.

Johnson, Goodman and Lilligren were the three council members who opposed sending the measure back to committee. Johnson indicated she wanted the issue put to rest.

“I fear having to go, inch by inch, through this whole process again,” Johnson said, noting she doesn’t remember an issue she’s gotten so many e-mails about.

Remington said he agreed with council members who resented spending time working on and debating the proposal to ban wild circus animals. It’s something that should have taken little to no time because the City Council should have simply known it is the right thing to do, Remington argued.

 “Is it the greatest problem that confronts us in the city of Minneapolis? No. But it is something we can address today,” Remington said.

Similar to an earlier public hearing regarding the ban, the City Council meeting was packed with supporters of the ban as well as members of the Zuhrah Shrine, which sponsors a circus each year at the Target Center.

Gordon tried to compromise on the ban by proposing that it not go into effect until 2012. He said that should alleviate concerns that a ban could subject the city to a lawsuit for breaking the contract the Zuhrah Shrine has with the city-owned Target Center through 2012. His amendment to the ban unanimously passed, but the ban itself was then substituted with Ostrow and Hodges’ ordinance.

Gordon then proposed an amendment to Ostrow and Hodges’ ordinance that would prohibit any circus that hasn’t had a clean record for at least 10 years with the United States Department of Agriculture — the federal organization that monitors circuses — from performing in the city. Ostrow argued it was far too overreaching.

“There’s no business in the city where we say if you’ve ever been cited for anything in 10 years, we will shut you down,” Ostrow said.

Gordon’s amendment failed, garnering only the support of Gordon, Remington and Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward).

After the ban on wild circus animals was replaced with Ostrow and Hodges’ ordinance, Gordon admitted that he was a “little bit flabbergasted and surprised” that an outright ban was defeated.

“I think this is a step in the right direction, but apparently we weren’t ready to make that today,” Gordon said of the ban.