Carlton: No, a vote to ban greyhound racing is not a vote to end fishing, hunting and life as we know it in Florida, no matter what they tell you

Greyhounds leave the starting gate at the start of a race  at Tampa Greyhound Track.  [Times files]
Greyhounds leave the starting gate at the start of a race at Tampa Greyhound Track. [Times files]
Published October 25 2018
Updated October 26 2018

"The humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida."

Well, sure.

Even in a politically polarized world, all of us Floridians can get behind that one, right?

Right?

Those 17 seemingly non-controversial words kick off proposed Constitutional Amendment 13, coming soon to a ballot near you.

Florida voters get to decide Nov. 6 whether to ban gambling on commercial dog racing, effectively ending it by 2020. They’ll decide if old-school betting on racing greyhounds — and the way the dogs have sometimes been treated — is a pastime past its time.

So here’s where the politics of politics got interesting. You know that part about all of us all agreeing that animals should be treated humanely? Apparently something dark and insidious lay within those words. Who knew?

A coalition of Florida groups called No on 13 — including the Florida Farm Bureau, the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and, it seems inevitable, the National Rifle Association — oppose this proposal because of that language. The theory: Those words could pave the way for extremist animal rights groups to sue to get banned anything perceived as not humane enough.

Imagine: Hunting. Fishing. Livestock farming.

Apparently it could end our way of life as we know it in the Sunshine State.

Already, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled this is, ahem, a bit of a stretch. The court ruled that the "fundamental value" clause does not have "independent legal effect." It does not mandate that judges or the Legislature do anything at all.

Which most of us could probably figure out even if we don’t wear the black robes.

Now for the argument for ending dog racing. Though it’s already illegal in 40 states, about a dozen tracks still exist here in Florida.

Animal advocates will tell you the dogs are often confined in cages for 20 hours a day. They get hurt. Since Florida started recording greyhound deaths at tracks five years ago, nearly 500 of the dogs have died.

In fact, a greyhound dies at a Florida dog track every three days on average. This is not a legacy about which to be proud.

Florida voters face a slew of amendments on a lengthy ballot this year, some of them confusing. Not this one. We sensibly phase out dog racing over the next two years, it says.

There’s an argument against cluttering up a document as important and purposeful as our state Constitution with a bunch of amendments that don’t belong there. But there’s also a good counter-argument that some issues are worth the clutter, especially when lawmakers can’t seem to get the job done themselves.

By the way, a similar sentence — "inhumane treatment of animals is a concern of Florida citizens" — is already in our Constitution. Thus far, no one has craftily used those words to legally prevent you from wetting a line at your favorite fishing pier or lunching on a burger made from Florida beef.

You could call it a red herring or a rabbit to distract forward-thinking Floridians — or just humane ones — from voting that greyhound racing is a tradition whose time has come.

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