UPDATE: WV bill regulating exotic animals heads to governor's de - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

UPDATE: WV bill regulating exotic animals heads to governor's desk

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UPDATE: 9:07 p.m. March 10

A bill seeking to regulate and restrict exotic animals in West Virginia has made it through both chambers of the Legislature and is on its way to the governor's office.

The bill, Senate Bill 477, gives the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources the responsibility of designating which animals will fall under the classification of "exotic" and then issue permits to owners of those animals.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the Senate approved amendments made by members of the House of Delegates. That move gave the bill the green light in both chambers.


ORIGINAL STORY: 1:23 p.m. March 10

The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has one additional responsibility under Senate Bill 477—to decide what animals are considered exotic.

The bill comes as a result of an incident in Zanesville, Ohio, last year, where a man who owned several exotic animals, including lions and tigers, released them from their cages before killing himself. The animals ran loose in the Ohio town, threatening the town's citizens, law enforcement and wildlife. Now, the West Virginia Legislature is using that as a catalyst to regulate exotic animals within the state.

But although the bill has passed both the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, it has drawn some criticism. Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, said some of his constituents have asked him what animals are considered exotic. And because the DNR hasn't been tasked with defining ‘exotic' just yet, he can't answer their questions.

"This is a serious issue," Kump told the House before the vote. "The phrase that comes to mind is ‘lions, tigers and bears, oh my!' However, reading over this 19 pages of legislation, as stated previously, leaves the promulgation of rules to the Division of Natural Resources with legislative oversight. This has drawn furor of some people who own exotic and not so exotic pets. Quite frankly, their confidence in the rule-making procedure is not good."

In addition to defining exotic, the DNR will also be responsible for issuing permits to exotic pet owners. According to the bill, the biennial permits will be issued at a cost of $25 per permit and the DNR will keep track of owner and animal identification information, permit fees and requirements and establish a system to keep track of permit applicants. The bill requires pet owners to comply with the new rules within 180 days.

Although ‘exotic' isn't clearly defined yet, there are some exemptions. For example, Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, raises American bison. Those animals are protected by a federal statute. Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, was concerned the Ogelbay Good Zoo in Wheeling would be affected. However, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the zoo would be exempt from the new rules.

The bill passed the Senate Feb. 17 by a vote of 32-1, and an amended version passed the House March 10 by a vote of 73-27. SB 477 must go back to the Senate for that body to concur with or refuse the House amendments.

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