New Jersey Takes Aim at Exotic Animals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

October 12, 2012

The New Jersey Legislature is gearing up to restrict the ownership of exotic animals, including reptiles.  On September 20, 2012, the New Jersey Senate introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 127 which was referred to the Senate Economic Growth Committee.  SCR 127 seeks to establish a task force on the “Illegal Trade and Inhumane Treatment of Endangered and Exotic Animals.”  On the same day it was introduced and referred to committee, it was released from committee with amendments and had its second reading.

October 11, 2012, the New Jersey Assembly introduced Concurrent Resolution 163, the Assembly companion bill to SCR 127, which was referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

The task force members, as defined in both Resolutions, are stacked heavily in favor of the animal rights industry and shall include the following:

 One member with significant managerial experience at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection or the United States Environmental Protection Agency, who shall serve as chairperson of the task force;

b.    One member representing the nonprofit organization known as Big Cat Rescue;

c.     One member representing the nonprofit organization known as EcoHealth Alliance;

d.    One member representing the nonprofit organization known as the Humane Society of the United States; and

e.    Two members of the public,  one of whom shall be appointed by the President of the Senate and one of whom shall be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, both of whom shall not hold elective office, and who shall have substantial knowledge and expertise related to endangered and exotic animals.

The full text of SCR 127 can be read here:

The full text of ACR 163 can be read here:

On October 4, 2012, the New Jersey Senate introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 2233 which seeks to modify New Jersey’s existing statute regarding ownership of exotic animals to include a new provision requiring $250,000 in liability insurance for every applicant  of a permit to possess a “live potentially dangerous indigenous animal or a live potentially dangerous exotic animal” prior to the issuance of the permit.

On October 11, 2012, SCR 2233’s companion bill, ACR 3338 was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly and was referred to the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee.

The full text of SCR 2233 can be read here:

The full text of ACR 163 can be read here:

Importantly, SCR 2233 and ACR 163 allow the specific “potentially dangerous exotic animals” and “potentially dangerous indigenous animals” to be determined through administrative rule.  However, both definitions include reptiles and amphibians explicitly.

Wake up, New Jersey, and be prepared for to fight to protect your exotic pets.

HSUS: Lying is a Thriving Vocation

“Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.” ~ Lysander Spooner

On June 8, 2012, I attended the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) 4th Annual Animal Law Conference in Chicago. This is an all-day event with a series of speakers on animal law topics for which attorneys receive credit toward Illinois’ mandatory continuing legal education (CLE). Approximately forty attorneys attended and one of my law partners, David H. Hopkins, an avid gun dog enthusiast and breeder of English Springer Spaniels, moderated the segment on due process rights in animal law.

I am the Vice Chair of the DuPage County Bar Association Animal Law Committee, but one of the reasons I attended this CLE was because the second presentation on the agenda was “Wildlife Enforcement Case Study and Exotics After Zanesville.” The presenter was Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist, HSUS, Chicago. I was actively involved in the opposition to SB 310 and came to know who the HSUS players in Ohio were. Debbie Leahy was not among them.

I did a little research on Leahy’s background after hearing her speak. Prior to joining HSUS, Leahy founded the animal rights group Illinois Animal Action, which she headed for eight years. She then joined PETA and lead their nationwide campaign against circuses and roadside zoos. PETA has bragged about Leahy that she “has dashed onto killing fields to disrupt pheasant hunts,” and “dressed as a giant rabbit to protest cruel animal tests.”

I was not able to find any record of her being on the bar in any state, nor does HSUS bill her as an attorney, so I am not sure why ISBA felt she was qualified to give a CLE presentation to Illinois lawyers, but I digress.

Perhaps it is because her background is not legal, but I was appalled at the inflammatory rhetoric she used in her presentation and by her multiple misstatements of fact and exaggerations. Clearly, Leahy felt she was pitching to a friendly audience, but the ease with which she misinformed was shocking, and Herp Alliance members should pay close attention, because Leahy spoke directly to HSUS’s strategy with respect to reptiles as well as other exotic animals.

HSUS has coined the catch phrase “DWA,” meaning Dangerous Wild Animals. Its list of “Species of Greatest Concern” includes: Big cats, small wild cats, bears, primates, wolves, venomous reptiles, large constrictor snakes, and alligators and crocodiles. HSUS’s written goal is to pass laws “limiting the possession of these animals to zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries (GFAS).” According to Leahy, “Exotic animals are in every nook and cranny of the country, in tiny pens and sheds, shut up in people’s basements and locked in bedrooms.” Her written presentation rejected even permits to possess exotic animals in favor of a total ban on ownership.

Leahy opened by gloating over the HSUS victory in Ohio in which she described the long fought battle with former Governor Strickland beginning in 2010 and over which HSUS finally prevailed. She glowed that she was pleased to report that Ohio is now a state “that bans wild animals as pets.” HSUS is thus conceding that SB 310 had nothing to do with Zanesville. It was the result of HSUS pressure and influence since 2010. For HSUS, Zanesville was the happy coincidence that pushed their ship over the finish line.

In discussing exotic animals, Leahy opined that large constrictor snakes are “high maintenance deadly predators.” She further stated that pythons and Boa constrictor are second only to big cats in human deaths. She said that there have been 17 human deaths since 1978 caused by deadly constrictor snakes nationwide. (According to HSUS itself, as of 2009 there were more than 13 million snakes living as pets in the United States.) According to Leahy, the problem with escaped large constrictors has reached the point where, “Escaped pythons are springing out of toilets, attacking people in gardens and ambushing children playing in their yards.”

Importantly, HSUS also testified in Ohio that there have been 17 human deaths caused by constrictor snakes since 1978. However, at both times HSUS made this statement, it failed to provide any support for it. Moreover, Leahy’s outrageous exaggerations about pythons “springing out of toilets” and accosting humans in their yards are false rhetoric designed to terrorize the public.

We must control this dialogue and present a true image of snakes in captivity. We cannot allow HSUS to perjure itself in support its tyrannical campaign to end reptile ownership.

Leahy provided an HSUS “Factsheet” to help summarize the immediate peril of “Illinois Incidents” dating back to 1997. Included in the HSUS list of incidents were two dead snakes (a 15′ Burmese python and a 7′ Boa constrictor) found frozen to death next to a fence at a truck stop and a 4′ albino Burmese python found sunning itself on the pavement outside of a Starbucks. In fact, notwithstanding HSUS’s outrageous allegations to the contrary, even their own “factsheet” lists only one injury in Illinois since 1997 from a reptile (the strangulation death of a 3 year old by his parents’ African rock python on August 29, 1999). One incident in fifteen years! This is a tragic fluke, not a problem. Bee stings cause more deaths than snakes.

Leahy then moved on to Illinois SB 3264, the controversial and painfully ill conceived bill introduced by Senator Heather Steans on February 1, 2012. HSUS was fully supportive of SB 3264′s provisions as it was written as well as later drafts, and has been working with Senator Steans on a promised revision this fall. Leahy admitted that HSUS is gearing up already for the coming legislative session and is gathering support for Steans from AZA and GFAS accredited sanctuaries as well as lining up the experts that they are planning to bring in to testify. In addition, she encouraged all supporters of SB 3264 to begin calling their state senators and representatives now to voice their support for this HSUS initiative. (Herp Alliance will issue an action alert for its members at the appropriate time to begin voicing our opposition if this comes to fruition.)

Leahy also revealed that HSUS has its eye on Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri, which she described as having “weak or non-existent laws.”

Leahy described three different times the “vigorous, vocal and obnoxious” opposition to “reasonable DWA legislation.” In fact, she had a slide in her PowerPoint presentation listing the vigorous, vocal and obnoxious opposition that included seven organizations. Second on the list was USARK, under the leadership of Andrew Wyatt (immediately after the Zoological Association of America). She described these groups as “industry interest groups and private owners represented by an umbrella organization.” Congratulations, Andrew Wyatt, you put the reptile community at the top of the list!

Differences in Institutional Goals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

This blog post was taken from a blog post on my personal blog, A Legal Perspective, that was originally posted on June 8, 2012

“To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.”  ~ Sun Tzu
A certain level of divisiveness has arisen within the reptile community based on the different approaches taken by Andrew Wyatt and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).  These differences came fully into the spotlight in the wake of Ohio’s Senate Bill 310, which Governor Kasich signed into law on June 5, 2012.  Wyatt resoundingly condemned SB 310  PIJAC endorsed it (PIJAC Ohio_Press_Release) and Ohio Dangerous and Wild Animal Bill Becomes Law).  In the interest of full disclosure, please note at the outset that the author is the Vice President of the US Herpetoculture Alliance has no affiliation with PIJAC.

To understand the differences in approaches and positions taken by Wyatt and PIJAC, it is necessary to look behind the curtains.

PIJAC describes itself as “a non-profit trade association, advocating for the pet industry, pet owners, animals, and the environment. PIJAC represents the needs of the pet industry and those they serve, promotes responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, and fosters environmental stewardship.”  Its board of directors is heavily populated by executives from the big box pet stores and pet supply companies:  Central Garden & Pet, PetSmart, Petco, Pet World, Inc., etc.

PIJAC’s constituents are primarily big box stores and their customers – mostly domesticated animals – dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, aquarium fish, birds, and other pets that can be purchased through pet stores as well as in the private sector.  According to PIJAC President and CEO, Michael Canning, PIJAC spends more money on reptile legislation than it takes in in donations from reptile constituents.

Wyatt worked from 2008-2012 as the President and CEO of USARK before leaving that organization to form the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.  (the Herp Alliance).  The Herp Alliance  is a science and conservation based advocacy for herpetoculture; the non-traditional American agricultural pursuit of producing high quality captive bred reptiles & amphibians (herpetofauna).  The Herp Alliance endorses caging standards, sound husbandry, escape prevention protocols, and an integrated approach to vital conservation issues. The Herp Alliance will also focus on conservation, sponsoring in particular captive breeding programs that directly impact conservation of species.   The health of these animals, public safety, and maintaining ecological integrity are the Herp Alliance’s primary concerns.  Its board of directors will include reptile breeders and specialists, including those that work with crocodilians, venomous animals, large constrictors and varanids.  They are all part of the herpetoculture community.

The difference in institutional goals is a salient one.  The Herp Alliance focuses exclusively on high quality, captive bred reptile owners and breeders.  PIJAC must also cover the interests of dog and cat owners and breeders, including commercial breeders and pet stores, as well as rodents, fish, birds, and yes, reptiles, too.  At times, their institutional objectives may be aligned, but more often, they are at least somewhat divergent, and sometimes they are nearly inapposite.

The easiest way to understand the divergence is by way of analogy.  According to Andrew Wyatt, the Herp Alliance primarily represents the interests of owners and breeders that are akin to hobbyist dog breeders, the small, private breeders that focus on breeding high quality dogs.  These breeders are typically active within the dog fancy in showing or competing in obedience, hunting, lure coursing, or other dog sports.  Improving the breed is the primary goal as opposed to mass production.  Incident to the interests of these owners and breeders are the trades that support them, companies that manufacture reptile products or produce reptile foods, and veterinarians that provide care for reptiles.

According to Canning, PIJAC primarily represents large retail pet stores (and their interests), whose executives are prominent on the PIJAC board.  These are commercial enterprises whose focus is on high volume production and profitability.  Included in this definition are not just the stores themselves, but the manufacturers of all products supporting the $50 billion plus pet industry in this country: commercial pet breeders, commercial pet food manufacturers, the makers of leashes, crates, aquariums, feed, and grooming products, etc.

In terms of reptiles, this becomes a major difference.  Pet stores do not sell reptiles that are not commonly considered “pets.”  Pet stores do not sell large constrictor snakes such as Burmese and reticulated pythons, but private herpetoculturists often work with these animals.  Pet stores do not sell venomous reptiles, but private herpetoculturists breed them.  Pet stores do not sell monitor lizards and many other unusual species such as tortoises, crocodilians and agamas, but private herpteculturists do.  Zoological societies obtain the majority of their specimens from these herpetoculturists.  Zoos rarely purchase wild caught specimens of these kinds of animals, and many of these animals are threatened in their natural habitats due to spoliation of the environment.  The protection of herpetocultue is a conservation concern of no small consequence.

These distinctions are not value judgments on either organization.  These are the factual differences between the Herp Alliance and PIJAC that help to elucidate the differences in the approaches that they take and the motivations of the their respective boards of directors.  These distinctions form the foundation of the significant differences between Wyatt’s philosophies and PIJAC with respect to legislation.  They came to the fore in Ohio during the battle over SB 310 and illustrates why Wyatt and PIJAC took the opposite view of the outcome in Ohio.

In December 2011, Wyatt met with Senator Troy Balderson, the senator who sponsored SB 310.   He also met with the director of ODA, the director of ODNR, both of their staffs, and multiple other legislators regarding the inclusion of reptiles (which have never posed a public safety threat in Ohio) in what was already taking form as a huge, restrictive legislative thundercloud for exotic animals and to educate the administration on the impact to Ohio residents and businesses. PIJAC, also became interested in and around this time and they, too, began trying to influence the governor.

Senator Balderson made multiple promises to us during these meetings.  Balderson assured us that only crocodilians and venomous snakes would would fall under his permit system (no constrictors), and that the system would be favorable to industry and it would be “business as usual.”   He reversed on those promises.

On March 8, 2012, Balderson introduced SB 310, seeking to enact a sweeping law to establish requirements governing the possession of multiple species of animals, which would be designated as “dangerous wild animals” as well as multiple species of snakes which would be designated under the law as “restricted snakes.”  He reversed on his promise to omit constrictors.  He reversed on his promise to maintain “business as usual” for the reptile industry.   SB 310′s provisions with respect to snakes were so onerous and expensive that they would have served to be a de facto ban on the ownership of multiple species of constrictor snakes as well as venomous snakes.

Wyatt made the strategic decision to discontinue discussions with Balderson because at best, he lacked the political authority to negotiate, or, at worst, he was negotiating in extremely bad faith.  Wyatt also made the decision not to hire a lobbyist in Ohio.  At the time, Governor Kasich had made it common knowledge that two of his major issues for the legislative session were fracking and exotic animal legislation.  As a result, no lobbyist was willing to take a strong position in opposition to SB 310, knowing that it would attract the ire of the governor and that engaging in that course of action might later lead to disfavor on future bills for future clients.

PIJAC took a different approach.  PIJAC hired a local lobbyist named Bill Byers and, through Byers, continued to engage in discussions with Balderson as well as other members of the senate.

Something must be said about Byers.  March 27, 2012 was the first day of opponents’ testimony before the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.  Byers was there early to meet with Chairman Hite and commented publicly in the State House hallway that he had seen Wyatt with his “tattooed and pierced followers.”  He went on to denigrate Wyatt personally as well as the reptile constituents that were gathered at the State House to testify.  This is the lobbyist that took a fee to ostensibly represent the interests of reptile owners opposing SB 310.

Byers arranged for Canning to be the first witness to testify against SB 310.  In his opening remarks, Canning conceded that PIJAC was amenable to the permitting of venomous snakes as well as large constrictors.  PIJAC was also amenable to insurance requirements; they just wanted them to be lower. They wanted Boa constrictor removed from the restricted list (consistent with Balderson’s pre-SB 310 promise that they would not be included to begin with).

At the same hearing, Wyatt testified that he opposed the inclusion of any reptiles from SB 310. He stated  that the reptile industry generates approximately $30 million annually in the state of Ohio; that thousands make their livings or supplement their incomes by farming reptiles as a non-traditional agricultural pursuit; that a rational argument could not be made that working with any reptiles presented public safety risks, and that 90% of the impact of SB310 was directed at the reptile industry, hobbyists and pet owners.  He requested that all reptiles be removed from SB 310 and that administrative rule making authority to add new species be removed as well.

Wyatt’s position was that further negotiations with Balderson were fruitless because Balderson had already demonstrated that the promises he made in his Senate chambers evaporated once he got onto the Senate floor.  In any contest, you cannot cut and run at the opening volley. Agreeing to minor modifications to Balderson’s de facto ban constituted a loss to the reptile community, particularly because Balderson insisted on keeping an administrative rule making provision in SB 310 granted the director of agriculture unfettered discretion to add animals to the dangerous wild animals list and/or to the restricted snake list without legislative process.

PIJAC applauded the version of SB 310 that passed out of the Ohio Senate and commended Balderson personally.  (Click here.)

Wyatt condemned it.

Upon reflection, it’s easy to understand why PIJAC was happy with the Senate version of SB 310:  no pet store reptiles were affected by SB 310, and so it had no impact on PIJAC’s constituents.  (Although additional species could easily be added to SB 310 and would have the potential to affect even pet store reptiles.)

For the same reason, Wyatt was vehemently opposed to it:  it affected (and still affects) a substantial number of herpetoculturists.  The insurance required of venomous owners has not been found to exist.  Full legislative process was never restored to add additional species to the dangerous or restricted lists.  The permitting system is a slippery slope to which additional animals can easily be added, and now, due to the Lacey Act, people with Burmese pythons, African rock pythons, or yellow anacondas cannot legally take their animals across state lines.

In addition, another bill, not related to reptiles but very related to the pet industry, was introduced in Ohio in the same legislative session.  This is (ironically) SB 130.  SB 130 is a puppy mill bill that is being pushed hard by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). PIJAC is adamantly opposed to SB 130 because it will impact the commercial dog trade.  (Click here.)  SB 130 passed out of the Ohio Senate on February 1, 2012, more than a month before SB 310 was even introduced.  However, it has mysteriously managed not to be heard in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the session is now over.  At PIJAC’s behest, Byers was (and presumably still is) also lobbying in Ohio against SB 130.

While Wyatt, representing the reptile community’s interests in Ohio have  been zeroed in on legislation impacting reptiles, PIJAC’s efforts were diffused over multiple bases, both reptiles (whom Canning concedes are a financial loss to them) and puppy mill legislation (which will impact the businesses of PIJAC’s Board of Directors as well as PIJAC’s members and constituents).

This is not a criticism.  PIJAC is doing the work demanded by its members and constituents and that is exactly what it should be doing. Wyatt was doing the work demanded by his constituents and that is exactly what he should be doing.  If there were overlap of their members and constituents, the differing approaches might beg further consideration, but they do not overlap.  The reptile community’s interests will always necessarily be different than PIJAC’s.  It should therefore not be surprising that Canning’s approach and Wyatt’s approach are not congruent and may even be (as in Ohio) diametrically opposed.

These differences should not divide the reptile community.  Some members of the reptile community privately (and sometimes not so privately) think that venomous snakes should be legislated because one incident of careless management practices could result in backlash against the entire industry.  There is a kernel of truth to that fear.  However, statistically, that has so far not played out.

There are approximately 13 million reptiles kept as pets in the United States at this time and despite that number, there is still approximately only one death per year from reptiles.  This is not statistically significant.  Reptiles are still safer than dogs, automobiles, horses and ATVs.  As an industry, we must ask ourselves if we wish to offer ourselves up as a sacrificial lamb and consent to be legislated preemptively.  As an attorney, and speaking objectively, I believe that position puts reptile owners in very great peril.  And in those limited circumstances in which preemptive legislation is appropriate, it must be very narrowly defined and specific so that legislative process precludes further erosion of our fundamental rights of due process.

Reptile owners need to act cohesively.  The division in personalities and positions imperils the rights of all.  Make no mistake but that your rights to keep reptiles are under siege, not just by animal rights activists, but also by our own government.   The reptile community needs to find its footing and make its voice heard.  Loudly. Now.

Failure to comprehend fully the ramifications of  legislative initiatives will ensure that we will lose and that herpetoculture will die by a thousand cuts, piece by piece, with one permit here and one species there gone until there are none left.


By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

“There is poison in the fang of the serpent, in the mouth of the fly and in the sting of a scorpion; but the wicked man is saturated with it.”    ~ Chanakya

May 22, 2012, Ohio’s Senate Bill 310, which went through 16 revisions in the Senate and one, big Omnibus Amendment in the House, passed the Ohio House of Representatives by a vote of 89-9. It was rushed through the Senate regarding the House amendments on the same day and passed by a vote of 30-1. SB 310 awaits only Governor Kasich’s signature before becoming Ohio law. There is no chance of veto.

SB 310 has sweeping implications for all exotic animals. In terms of reptiles, it imposes a prohibitive permitting scheme for all species of venomous snakes and certain constrictors over 12′ in length. It imposes enormous and specific liability insurance or surety bond requirements on owners of venomous snakes, the likes of which are not available. SB 310 requires owners of all restricted snakes to meet certain standards of care that have not been defined and will be set by administrative rule at some later date by group of people unqualified to define best management practices for reptiles. By administrative rule, the director of agriculture can require any information he chooses on the application to own restricted snakes and breeding restricted snakes requires a separate permit. Additional species may be added to the dangerous wild animals list or the list of restricted snakes by either legislative process or a simple concurrent resolution without full legislative process. The impact on reptile hobbyists, owners, breeders and small businesses will be enormous.

How did Ohio go from being one of the few completely unregulated states with respect to exotic reptiles, to one of the most restrictive in less than three months?

The genesis of SB 310 goes back to 2010 and Kasich’s predecessor, Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland was under tremendous
pressure from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to regulate standards of care for Ohio farm animals. HSUS had threatened to file petitions for HSUS’s proposed constitutional amendment on animal care and housing. (FN1.) Strickland, caving to the pressure of HSUS’s threats, made a deal to draft an executive order. In exchange for this agreement, HSUS agreed to drop their ballot initiative for 2010 and committed to instigating no future initiatives for at least ten years. (FN2.)

On January 6, 2011, the deal brokered between Strickland and HSUS resulted in Strickland issuing an emergency executive order banning exotic pets in Ohio. (FN3.) The executive order would have authorized the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife to adopt new rules that prevented new private ownership of wild animals, required existing private owners of dangerous wild animals to register the animals with the state, and defined the type of facilities that could own and rehabilitate dangerous wild animals. The emergency rules would be in place for 90 days. (FN4.)

Four days later, Kasich was sworn in as Ohio’s governor, having defeated Strickland in November 2010 by a narrow margin. (FN5.) By this time, Andrew Wyatt had become aware of the terms of Strickland’s well publicized deal with HSUS. In January 2011, he began contacting Kasich’s office.

By the spring of 2011, Kasich had decided not to sign Strickland’s exotic animal ban because he felt that it exceeded the authority of ODNR and because he felt that it would damage Ohio small businesses. (FN6.) Kasich blocked Strickland’s executive order until its expiry.

Then Zanesville happened. On October 18, 2011, Zanesville, Ohio police began receiving 911 calls of lions, bears, tigers, and other large, dangerous animals wandering loose. The animals, 56 in all, belonged to a man named Terry Thompson, who had kept them on a private game preserve and who chose to turn them loose just prior to killing himself. No humans were harmed by the loosed animals, but unfortunately, the animals were not so lucky. Forty-nine lions, tigers, bears, wolves, mountain lions and a baboon were slaughtered. Most of these were shot and killed by law enforcement officers within 1500 feet of their pens. One was hit by a car. No reptiles were involved in the Zanesville incident.

The public criticism against Kasich from the Zanesville tragedy was swift and condemning. Kasich, of course, refused to accept any culpability, but it turned into an enormous political embarrassment for Kasich, so much so that he sent his friend, Jungle Jack Hanna to the media to defend him. Hanna (television celebrity and Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium), a strong Kasich ally who personally donated $7500 to Kasich’s gubernatorial campaign, made the rounds on national TV claiming it was not Kasich’s fault and further stating that even if Strickland’s original ban had been left in place, there wasn’t anyone to enforce it and no place to put the animals if they had to be taken away. (FN7.)

Politicians achieve their status in life by renegotiating every promise they ever make. The most successful ones make the largest reversals. Kasich may become very successful.

Before Zanesville, Kasich claimed to be protecting Ohio’s small businesses. After Zanesville, he claimed that he blocked Strickland’s executive order because of deficiencies in that order. He became hell bent on passing prohibitive legislation against exotic animal owners as political damage control.

In December 2011, Wyatt met with Senator Troy Balderson, the senator representing the district in which Zanesville lies, and the same senator who sponsored SB 310. Wyatt also met with the director of ODA, the director of ODNR, both of their staffs, and multiple other legislators regarding the inclusion of reptiles (which have never posed a public safety threat in Ohio) in what was already taking form as a huge, restrictive legislative thundercloud for exotic animals and to educate the administration on the impact to Ohio residents and businesses. Other organizations also became interested in and around this time and they, too, began trying to influence the governor.

Senator Balderson made multiple promises to Wyatt during these meetings. Balderson assured Wyatt that only crocodilians and venomous snakes would would fall under his permit system (no constrictors), and that the system would be favorable to industry and it would be “business as usual.” He reversed on those promises.

On March 8, 2012, Balderson introduced SB 310, seeking to enact a sweeping law to establish requirements governing the possession of multiple species of animals, which would be designated as “dangerous wild animals” as well as multiple species of snakes which would be designated under the law as “restricted snakes.” He reversed on his promise to omit constrictors. He reversed on his promise to maintain “business as usual” for the reptile industry. SB 310′s provisions with respect to snakes were so onerous and expensive that they would have served to be a de facto ban on the ownership of multiple species of constrictor snakes as well as venomous snakes.

Rumors in the Statehouse circulated that Balderson, who was not elected but appointed to his senate seat by Kasich, was buckling under the pressure of the governor, who was in a frantic scramble to avoid looking bad over Zanesville. Wyatt made the strategic decision (with which I agreed whole heartedly) to discontinue discussions with Balderson because at best, he lacked the political authority to negotiate, or, at worst, he was negotiating in extremely bad faith.

Wyatt appeared on March 27, 2012 at the first opponents hearing on SB 310 before the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Wyatt gave compelling testimony to a standing room only crowd, amid a sea of NO SB 310 buttons provided by Wyatt, that the reptile industry generates approximately $30 million annually in the state of Ohio; that thousands make their livings or supplement their incomes by farming reptiles as a non-traditional agricultural pursuit; that a rational argument could not be made that working with any reptiles presented public safety risks, and that 90% of the impact of SB310 was directed at the reptile industry, hobbyists and pet owners. He requested that all reptiles be removed from SB 310 and that administrative rule making authority to add new species be removed as well.

Wyatt and I both appeared on April 17th, and on April 24th, each time presenting testimony that not only would SB 310 create a huge burden on Ohio commerce and small businesses, but that reptiles have statistically never posed a public safety risk in Ohio or elsewhere in the U.S.

By April 17th it was clear to us that the Senate intended to listen to virtually unending testimony on SB 310, but had every intention of passing SB 310 out of committee. During that week, Wyatt began executing its strategy to try to ameliorate the damaging provisions of SB 310 in the Ohio House of Representatives. Wyatt felt, and I agreed, that progress in the Senate was futile and further efforts there were going to be fruitless under the circumstances.

Balderson made and reneged on more promises regarding SB 310 during this time period. For example, he promised that administrative rule making authority to add new species would be removed. In fact, he put that promise into writing. But he reneged.

By April 24th, SB 310 was in its 16th version. Some opponents spoke out in favor of the sixteenth version because Balderson removed Boa constrictor , removed constricting snakes less than 12′ long, and allowed surety bonds in certain cases instead of liability insurance for venomous snakes. The inclusion of constrictors, later “bargained” back, was not a victory. Balderson took pains to agree to “concessions” that the legislature could reclaim because of his failure to remove administrative rule as promised. It was a shell game played by Balderson and Kasich against the stakeholders and their representatives who were inexperienced at the carnival.

Wyatt and I  began meeting with House representatives on April 24, 2012 and voicing our objections to SB 310. These objections were resoundingly well received in the House and we were assured that the House would not buckle to the whims of a tyrannical governor as the Senate had.

Beginning in April, several aides also intimated to us that somehow, some of the opponents of SB 310 were leveraging it against another pending piece of legislation, Ohio SB 130. In other words, if opposition to SB 310 were quelled, SB 130 might not be scheduled for committee hearing. SB 130 is a puppy mill bill and puppy production in Ohio is a much larger industry that reptile keeping. Another layer of intrigue had been added. Although we could not verify for certain this had happened, we received enough comments from enough offices, that it seemed likely. As of May 23, 2012, SB 130 still has not been scheduled for further committee hearings and the session is about to end. It was assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 2, 2012, more than a month before SB 310 was even introduced.

On April 25, 2012, SB 310 passed out of the Ohio Senate on a vote of 30-1 and moved to the House. The same day, Wyatt was on the phone with Chairman David Hall’s office addressing the issue of administrative rule as well as other problematic features that persisted in SB 310. By this time, Wyatt and I already had appointments scheduled for the following week with more than half of the representatives on the House and Natural Resources Committee to discuss SB 310 and had contacted Kasich’s office multiple times regarding meeting with the governor to discuss SB 310. After two weeks of such attempts, Kasich’s aide admitted that Kasich would not meet with us regarding SB 310 and told us that, through her, Kasich made a personal request to the director of agriculture, Director Daniels, to meet with Wyatt and me. Unfortunately, the director’s schedule did not allow that to happen.

By May 1, 2012, we had submitted a proposed substitute bill to Representative David Hall, the Chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. We were in Ohio on May 8th and 9th for continued meetings with legislators in the House, to discuss the particulars of our sub bill (which was distributed to the House Committee on May 8th) and to testify in the House Committee hearings.

Throughout hearings, we continued to hammer home the points that SB 310 represented an unfunded mandate that would fall squarely on the shoulders of Ohio taxpayers, that reptile owners continued to be disproportionately affected, that reptiles posed no safety risk in Ohio, that administrative rule to add new species violated due process rights, that the insurance requirements of SB 310 were impossible to meet because such policies did not exist, and that ideologues and imported animal rights experts were the only proponents, proponents that would drive Ohio residents out of business.

Attendance by committee members at the House committee hearings was outstanding. Members asked pointed and excellent questions and paid close attention to the testimony that was given. On two nights, these public hearings went until approximately midnight. Andrew and I appeared on behalf of the Ohio reptile community, and multitudinous Ohio residents appeared and testified as well, many in the herpetoculture community as well as owners of exotic mammals. At most hearings, opponents outnumbered proponents by more than 20 to one. Proponents were HSUS, PETA, a handful of local zoo representatives (always at least one of Hanna’s cronies from the Columbus Zoo) and imported animal rights advocates from other states.

Early on, Representative Jim Buchy (R) developed a pointed interest in support of our positions and our sub bill. Buchy sent our sub bill to drafting and through him it was proposed to the House committee. Other representatives were also opposed to the Senate version of SB 310 and it was clear to them that Wyatt’s criticisms of specific provisions were accurate.

In our May 8, 2012 meeting with Chairman Hall, he explained to us that when the House received SB 310 from the Senate, the House committee members felt that SB 310 was so problematic that there were not enough votes to pass it out of committee. Hall indicated that he would not call for a vote if they could not pass it. However, if the changes were made in the House necessary to pass SB 310 out of committee, he felt certain that the Senate would not approve it. In that case, the two chambers were required to “conference” the issue, with the governor, which would delay the session.

After May 10, 2012, no further testimony was taken on SB 310. On May 14th, seven committee members caucused SB 310 with Balderson and Kasich. We learned after that caucus that the majority of the House committee was also caving under Kasich’s will. All of the House committee members were up for reelection in November. They were anxious to get back to their districts to campaign. Balderson threatened that substantive changes would not pass in the Senate. Kasich promised that he would veto SB 310 if it arrived on his desk with substantive changes. As a result, the only changes that the House committee proposed in its Omnibus Amendment were those that both Balderson and Kasich had pre-approved.

The Omibus Amendment did not restore legislative process to SB 310. Instead, it allows the director of agriculture to add species to the restricted snakes list or to the dangerous wild animals list (or between those two lists) with approval of the General Assembly. This could be through the introduction of an amendment in the form of a bill. However, it can also be through a concurrent resolution, for which hearings, multiple readings, committees and public input are not required. A concurrent resolution only needs a simple majority vote in each chamber and may occur quite silently. This is not full legislative process.

The insurance provisions in SB 310 are either not obtainable or may be so onerous that the cost will preclude nearly all breeders from meeting the requirements. The standards of care are not defined and administrative rules could impose standards of care that are so impossible as to represent a ban on all permits. Moreover, the director of agriculture can, by administrative rule, define what information and requirements are necessary to keep restricted snakes. SB 310 is a defacto ban on keeping venomous snakes and possibly constrictor snakes over 12′ of certain species.

On May 16, 2012 , SB 310 passed the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee late in the evening by a vote of 17 to 4. The four Representatives who opposed the bill were Buchy, Boose, Damschroder and Hagan.

On May 22, 2012, SB 310 was read on the House floor for its third consideration. Chairman Hall testified that there had been over 15 hours of testimony taken by the House committee, more than 80 witnesses had appeared to give oral testimony and additional written testimony was submitted. He thanked Kasich, Balderson, and Balderson’s legislative aide. He said, “We made the bill stronger,” and, “I feel that we did get it right.”

Representative Terry Boose testified against SB 310. Boose asked more questions in committee than any other representative. He stated that when the House received SB 310, “I was 100% for the bill. I thought it was a good bill before listening to the 80 plus witnesses who testified.” Boose went on to list the litany of problems with SB 310. He said it created a false sense of security. He correctly noted that even if SB 310 passes, it is powerless to prevent another Zanesville, that a person could still own all those animals and still release them. He testified that SB 310 “takes away property rights, not just your neighbor next door, but businesses, valuable businesses in Ohio.”

Boose talked about the $30M to $100M annual revenues generated by the exotic animal business and said that SB 310 will “regulate them out of business.” He testified about the “out of state animal rights groups” that want to impose SB 310 on Ohio. He compared SB 310 to Ohio’s Jarod’s Law (referring to a environmental school safety law in Ohio that went into effect in March of 2006 and was repealed entirely in 2009 because the extraordinary costs of the regulations). (FN8.)

Boose noted that none of the proponents nor the committee had been able to find insurance or surety bonds with the language and terms SB 310 will require. He noted that SB 310 will force this businesses underground. He testified that the bill was devoid of any of the rules that it seeks to enforce. He said, “I cannot vote for this bill.”

Wyatt and I applaud Boose for testifying that, “When we pass laws that people cannot obey, then we destroy the Rule of Law and create a lawless society.”

SB 310 passed in the Ohio House of Representatives by a vote of 89-9. Those that voted against it were: Representatives Boose, Buchy, Conditt, Damschroder, Goodwin, Christina Hagan, Martin, Newbold, and Uecker. It immediately moved to the Senate the same day, where it passed by a vote of 30-1. The sole senator voting against it was Senator Jordan.

This is a sad day for reptile keepers in Ohio. We applaud the Ohio legislators that held to their promises and had the courage, the integrity and the intelligence to stand up for Ohio businesses and commerce in light of the pressure and hysteria of the ideologues to which Kasich and Balderson succumbed.




FN4 Id.



FN7 Id.


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