Legislators spent an hour debating danger signs on cocoa bean mulch.
With less than two weeks left to reconcile a $4.6 billion budget deficit, lawmakers spent an hour Tuesday debating yet another urgent and divisive question: Can dogs read?
A bill that would require retailers to post notices that cocoa bean mulch can be dangerous to pets brought howls of indignation about overweening government and stories about the time Fido or Felix got sick from eating the wrong thing.
The problem: Dogs can get sick from eating cocoa bean shells, which are growing in popularity as a landscaping mulch.
A constituent of Minneapolis DFLer Frank Hornstein came to him this year after the death of the family Labrador retriever. Hornstein offered legislation on the House floor Tuesday directing retailers to put up a sign indicating that cocoa bean shell mulch could be hazardous to pets if eaten.
Fangs started to show when Delano Republican Tom Emmer wondered what language the signs would be written in. Told by Hornstein, whose family dog is a Cockapoo, that the signs would be in English, Emmer scoffed: "I'm very concerned because I don't believe the dog can read that," he said.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, made it personal, talking about how his German shorthair pointer, Slim, became ill after eating the mulch.
"All this says is put a sign up. Vote on this for Slim and the other dogs in Minnesota. Let's pass Slim's Law," he pleaded.
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, the owner of a yellow lab, worried about "government overreach," asking if warning labels should be put on boxes of Cocoa Puffs cereal. Sauk Rapids Republican Dan Severson said that his lab got sick after eating oleander and the family cat was put down after eating Easter lily.
"Labs will eat anything," he said.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, noted the world is full of dangers for dogs -- from antifreeze to cars. "Big dogs are detrimental to little dogs. How long are we going to take this nanny state and waste our time?" he asked.
While the debate raged around him, Rep. Rob Eastlund, R-Cambridge, searched the Internet, Googling "cocoa bean shell mulch" and "dogs." He dug up the fact that 98 percent of dogs won't eat cocoa bean shells to begin with and only half of that 2 percent get sick from them.
A frustrated Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, extended the debate by lamenting that the debate was being extended in the face of a massive budget deficit.
"I don't know, maybe that dog had a happy ending," he whimpered.
The bill passed by a whisker, 68-63. Having already passed in the Senate, it goes to Gov. Tim Pawlenty for his signature. A Pawlenty spokesman said his office has not taken a position on the bill.
Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636