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HERE COME THE PUPPY INSPECTORS



Published: Tue, April 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Scripps Howard: When your dog has a puppy, you had better scratch that puppy behind the ears. If you don't, you could someday be in violation of a law known as the Puppy Protection Act. The act has been passed by the Senate and is part of the farm bill now under consideration by a conference committee.

This is true. This is not fiction. Some members of the Senate are apparently so convinced of the inability of this country to get through another day without the coercion and wisdom of the federal government that they voted for this measure requiring people to socialize with puppies before selling them. Depending on court rulings about Agriculture Department regulations, such a law could apply even to small breeders selling to consumers instead of to stores, a Scripps Howard story notes.

Nicer dogs: The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have argued that person-to-puppy contact will make the dogs nicer and thus prevent future owners from taking them for long, one-way rides in the country. Maybe so, although the American Kennel Club observes that raising dogs is far more complicated than the legislation acknowledges. But arguing about the best method of puppy-rearing misses the point, which is that this sort of detailed regulation exceeds any reasonable intrusion of the federal government in affairs of the citizenry.

This provision of an act that has some better-considered provisions would not be nearly as bothersome if it were not that such legislative overreaching is commonplace. The farm bill in which this act is lodged is itself an example of going much too far. It puts billions from taxpayers in the pockets of multimillion-dollar agribusinesses, and to no purpose higher than helping members of Congress get votes and support from the handout recipients. The Bush administration had resisted the excess, but now is going along for political reasons. The administration has announced no position on mandating the petting of puppies. All that is known is that it now favors feeding the fat cats.

BACK BURNER FOR FAIR HOUSING

Washington Post: The federal Fair Housing Act was signed into law 34 years ago this month, only days after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. With that historic era in mind, consider the following:

You've rented your apartment for six years, have good credit and strong references. With a new wife and baby, you turn to the same landlord for a larger apartment. All goes well until the landlord meets your wife. She's a black Latina. The rental unit that was yours is suddenly unavailable.

And this: The owner and manager of your rental apartment subjects low-income single female tenants, including their teen-age daughters, to pervasive and unwelcome verbal and physical sexual advances. If they don't submit, they run the risk of eviction or other retaliation.

Blatant violations: Both are real examples of blatant violations of the Fair Housing Act. And those cases aren't from yesteryear. In the latter case, a federal grand jury returned a $450,000 verdict against the Jacksonville, Miss., landlord last month for sexually harassing female tenants. And in the first case, a summary judgment was handed down five months ago against the New York City landlord who discriminated against the Latina's family.

The sad fact is that illegal discrimination has not gone the way of Jim Crow signs. Housing discrimination is practiced today, but with a sophistication and subtlety that would make the most rabid segregationist drool with envy. For that reason, housing discrimination complaints filed nationwide still number in the thousands, according to the "2002 Fair Housing Trends Report" released last week by the National Fair Housing Alliance. Those 24,000 documented complaints reflect just a small percentage of the actual cases of housing discrimination.

In truth, most victims of housing discrimination based on race, disability, familial status or national origin are simply suffering their humiliation in silence. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, reports the alliance, estimates that 2 million Americans are in that category.

It's not that they don't have a strong anti-discrimination law on their side. Unfortunately, the federal enforcement arm is weak. The office within HUD that administers the federal statute is both understaffed and undertrained. Cases are seriously backlogged, and private fair housing agencies qualified to receive HUD fair-housing grants to aid nationwide enforcement efforts are instead given the bureaucratic runaround.




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