Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 2, 2014

County spay, neuter laws could be considered by leaders

GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON — Legislation recently introduced at the state capitol could give West Virginia’s counties the option of enacting spay/neuter ordinances.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said the bill is a “permissive” bill that simply allows a county to enact a spay/neuter ordinance. Cities now have the ability to enact such ordinances, but there is now a question about whether counties have the same authority.

“This makes it clear,” Gearheart said of the bill. “It does not tell the counties what to place in the ordinance, or how to enact it. They can do it by vote of county commission or they can put it in front of the voters. If they think it’s in their interest, they should be able to do it.”

The bill has been assigned to the Political Subdivisions Committee that is chaired by Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson.

“We have discussed it, but I don’t have a commitment yet that she will take it up,” Gearheart said.

The Mercer County Commission has been asked more than once to consider enacting a spay/neuter ordinance.

The commission has not known whether counties have the authority to do this, said Mike Vinciguerra, the commission’s president.

“If we did it ourselves, it would be on a ballot if we could do it legally, providing the bill passes,” he said. “A county cannot trump a state ordinance.”

Current state code states that the owner of a dog or cat that has been placed in a county animal shelter has five days to claim it, and the county cannot require the owner to get that animal spayed or neutered, Vinciguerra said.

If the new ordinance is passed, the current state code would have to be deleted or changed, Vinciguerra said. He added that he planned to ask legislators about this concern Thursday when he visits the Legislature. How a spay/neuter ordinance would be funded would also have to be considered along with exemptions for hunters and breeders.

“We would have to have our attorney look at the ordinance and see if it’s legal,” he said.