On March 6, 2013, West Virginia Senators Laird, Kessler, Stollings, Fitzsimmons and Williams introduced Senate Bill 466, entitled “Dangerous Wild Animals Act.”
SB 466 is a broad sweeping, ambiguous ban on exotic animals. “Dangerous Wild Animals” are defined as “mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and aquatic life, including hybrids, that are dangerous to humans, other animals and the environment due to their inherent nature.” Wildlife, agricultural animals and domestic animals already defined by West Virginia statute are exempted. However, SB 466 vests authority to a Dangerous Wild Animal Board (the “Board”) to list dangerous wild animals pursuant to administrative rule making authority.
Pursuant to SB 466, the Board is comprised of exactly three people: the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the Director of the Division of Natural Resources, or their designees. These three government officials would have complete discretion to decide at any time what animals will or will not be banned without legislative process.
The only exemptions to the ban are:
- Institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or an AZA-certified facility;
- Animal control or law-enforcement agencies or officer;
- Licensed veterinary hospitals or clinics treating dangerous wild animals;
- A licensed or accredited research medical institution;
- A research facility as defined in the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. § 2132(e), as amended;
- A circus that is an incorporated, class c licensee under the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. § 2132(e), as amended;
- A person temporarily transporting a dangerous wild animal through the state if the transit time is not more than forty-eight hours and the animal is at all times confined sufficiently to prevent escape.
There are no exemptions for educational institutions, rescue organizations, sanctuaries or any private owners. Current owners of banned animals (who would not know what animals are banned until after the passage of SB 466 when the Board determines that list) will be grandfathered in provided that they meet a strict set of guidelines, including insurance requirements.
SB 466 will vest the West Virginia government with complete authority to ban whatever species of animals it so chooses. It will decimate small businesses and it will create a situation of chaos for owners of banned animals who will not know until SB 466 becomes law that they are subject to onerous and impossible requirements, putting not only the owners at risk, but the animals themselves.
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