2014: West Virginia House Bill 4393

West Virginia Action Alert

THIS BILL HAS BEEN PASSED INTO LAW

House Bill 4393 has been passed by committees in the House and the Senate. West Virginia residents must contact Governor Tomblin's office now and continue to contact legislators. Governor Tomblin vetoed the Dangerous Wild Animals Act last year due to financial hardships that would be placed upon the state. Similar legislation in Ohio in 2012 led to the construction of a $2.9 million temporary-housing facility for animals that could no longer be kept due to the newly-implemented law.

West Virginia HB 4393 (Dangerous Wild Animals Act) was introduced February 3, 2014. View the HB 4393 Committee Substitute text at www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_text.cfm?billdoc=HB4393%20SUB.htm&yr=2014&sesstype=RS&i=4393.

The ACTION ALERT can be found at www.usark.org/campaign/west-virginia-house-bill-4393/ and there is more information below.

According to the bill: "The possession of dangerous wild animals presents serious public health and safety concerns and shall be regulated for the following reasons."

As we know, exotic pets do not pose public safety concerns and this bill is more legislation pushed by anti-pet groups.

The bill seeks to form a Dangerous Wild Animal Board which will have rulemaking authority (no public input) to list any species as a "dangerous wild animal." Any species listed would be prohibited.

Notes on bill:

  • A Dangerous Wild Animal Board (DWAB) will be created: Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Director of the Division of Natural Resources, or their designees
  • The DWAB will write a list of "dangerous wild animals" (DWA)
  • The initial proposed DWA list includes (DWA species are not limited to the below):
    • Constrictor snakes greater than six feet, and venomous snakes; Alligators and caimans; Bears; Big cats; Canids; Primates
    • The final list would not be known unless the bill passes into law and then the newly-formed “Dangerous Wild Animals Board” would designate species as dangerous. If the bill passes, no species would be prohibited until the initial list is finalized. Speak up now!
  • A person may not possess a dangerous wild animal without a permit.
  • Permit holder details:
    • Fee to be established.
    • DWAs may not be bred or replaced.
    • DWA may not come into physical contact with a member of the general public.
    • Each DWA must be permanently marked with a unique identifier.
    • Must maintain records for each DWA, including veterinary records, acquisition papers, the purchase date and other records that prove ownership.
    • Must present proof of liability insurance of $300,000 or more with a deductible less than $250.
    • Permit renewed annually.
    • Other details in bill text.
  • Punishment details:
    • A person who violates a provision of this article is guilty of a demeanor and fine of $200 to $2,000 for each animal.
    • A person who releases or possesses a DWA is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be jailed for up to one year or fined $500 to $2,500, or both confined and fined.
    • A person who owns a DWA that injures an individual is guilty of a felony and may be imprisoned for one to three years, or fined $1,000 to $5,000, or both imprisoned and fined.
    • Other details in bill text.

At this time, it is crucial for West Virginia exotic pet keepers to contact legislators and address their concerns. Also, any herp societies, 4H clubs, pet businesses, pet owners, etc. should collaborate. 

Additional Arguments (Talking Points):

  • Financial:
  • Similar legislation in Ohio led to a $2,900,000 temporary-housing facility for  animals that could not be kept by responsible owners.
  • This law will cost West Virginia millions of dollars more to implement than the money raised from permits.
  • A proper fiscal estimate should be presented before hastily passing a law that will cost the state millions of dollars.
  • Money has been spent since the bill was passed in Ohio on June 6, 2012 by the state and legislators who are still making changes to the law.
  • Caging requirements have still not been finalized in Ohio, over 18 months after the law passed.
  • The new law led to millions of dollars invested by Ohio, and West Virginia HB 4393 is very similar.
  • Additional financial hardships will be placed on pet owners by requiring permits.
  • Other Points:
  • No member of the general public has ever been killed by a constricting snake species.
  • Only 10 deaths from large snakes are documented since 1990 in the entire United States. At least one of these cases is noted as fraudulent.
  • Boas are one of the most common pet snake species in America. There are 9 subspecies and dozens of localities of Boa constrictor. Some of these localities rarely exceed 5’ in length and 4 pounds in weight. That is hardly dangerous.

  • Exotic species of reptiles are also not a threat to the environment. They cannot establish themselves in West Virginia as the climate is not acceptable.
  • Extreme southern Florida is the only environment in the continental U.S. that allows a minuscule number of exotic species to barely survive in the wild. The Burmese python population has been in southern Florida since 1991 and has not moved north.

  • An estimated 30,000 residents in West Virginia responsibly own reptiles.
  • Reptiles are housed indoors and simply do not pose any public safety concern.
  • The newly-created "Dangerous Wild Animal Board" will review species annually so pet owners must constantly be concerned with their pets being added as a "dangerous wild animal."

 

Below is a sample letter. Be sure to write "No on HB 4393" as the subject. It is always best to personalize the letter is some manner. Remember to always be professional and civil when addressing legislators and commenting publicly.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Sample Letter for West Virginia HB 4393

Subject: Veto HB 4393

Dear Governor Tomblin,

As a responsible pet owner, I oppose HB 4393, the "Dangerous Wild Animal Act." Similar legislation to House Bill 4393 passed in Ohio has cost the state millions of dollars. This includes a $2.9 million housing facility for beloved pets that could no longer be kept by owners under the new law. This bill will punish responsible reptile and exotic animal keepers and is overreaching legislation pushed by anti-pet groups that use special interest propaganda filled with partial truths. This is unconstitutional and far overreaching legislation.

Pet snakes do not pose a public safety threat. They are housed indoors and there has never been a member of the general public killed by a large snake. Only 10 deaths from large snakes are documented since 1990 in the entire United States. At least one of these cases is noted as fraudulent. Bills such as this only create problems that did not previously exist.

Education before legislation is of utmost importance, especially when impacting the lives of so many pet owners. For example, many constrictor snake species at 6' in length weigh less than ten pounds and pose threats to only feeder rodents. That is hardly a "dangerous wild animal." Even larger snakes pose no threat as they are housed inside and in secure housing. Please listen to your constituents and get the full truth about reptiles as pets.

These species are also not a threat to the environment. They cannot establish themselves in West Virginia as the climate is not acceptable. Extreme southern Florida is the only environment in the continental U.S. that allows a minuscule number of exotic species to barely survive in the wild. The Burmese python population has been in southern Florida since 1991 and has not moved north.

An estimated 30,000 residents in West Virginia responsibly own reptiles. This legislation does not protect the citizens of West Virginia but it does punish them.

This type of legislation is pushed by anti-pet groups posing as animal welfare organizations. Animal cruelty should certainly be addressed, but banning and over-regulating pet ownership are not effective means to handle this concern. It’s a shame that the great state of West Virginia would allow special interest groups to influence public policy and not protect the freedoms of its citizens.

Please consider your constituents and their freedoms. Pet ownership is a matter of personal responsibility and not government action. I implore you to veto HB 4393.

Sincerely,

Your name, address, contact info, etc. __________________________________________________________________________________________

Contact Information for Senate Judiciary Committee and Sponsors

Email addresses are below but view additional contact information at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/committees/senate/SenateCommittee.cfm?Chart=jud.
Contact Governor Tomblin at www.governor.wv.gov/Pages/SubmitaCommenttotheGovernor.aspx.
 
Randy Swartzmiller (D - Hancock, 01) Lead sponsor
rswartzmiller@gmail.com
Capitol Office: Room 242M, Building 1, State Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV 25305
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3138
Home: 216 Heartwood Drive, Chester, WV, 26034
Business Phone: (304) 479-5140

Sponsors:

Delegate Erikka Storch: erikka.storch@wvhouse.gov & (304) 340-3378
Delegate Kevin Craig: kjcraigwv@aol.com & (304) 340-3116
Delegate Brady Paxton: brady.paxton@wvhouse.gov & (304) 340-3146
Delegate Ron Fragale: ron.fragale@wvhouse.gov & (304) 340-3102

Mike Manypenny (D - Taylor, 49) Co-sponsor
mike.manypenny@wvhouse.gov
Capitol Office: Room 203E, Building 1, State Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV 25305
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3139
Home:Route 3, Box 202, Grafton, WV, 26354
Business Phone: (304) 677-0379

 
Danny Wells (D - Kanawha, 36) Co-sponsor
danny.wells@wvhouse.gov
Capitol Office: Room 210E, Building 1, State Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV 25305
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3287
Home: 34 Bridlewood Road, Charleston, WV, 25314
Home Phone: (304) 542-0284

John N. Ellem (R - Wood, 10) Co-sponsor
john.ellem@wvhouse.gov
Capitol Office: Room 150R, Building 1, State Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV 25305
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3394
Home: P.O. Box 322, Parkersburg, WV, 26102
Home Phone: (304) 863-0375, Business Phone: (304) 424-5297

Article written by USARK