Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 6, 2013

Southern W.Va. lawmakers: Spay-neuter rules could be decided by counties

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Mercer and McDowell County legislators said Wednesday that they were in favor of introducing and supporting bills allowing counties to enact their own spay and neuter ordinances.

The issue about whether counties have the authority to put spay-neuter ordinances in place surfaced again after approximately 10 pit bull puppies were dumped in the  Grassy Branch area outside the city of Bluefield. The city recently enacted a ban against pit bulls.

Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said new legislation would be necessary before county commissions could be specifically empowered to enact spay-neuter ordinances. One existing state code — 7-1-3kk — could be vaguely interpreted as allowing a county commission to implement such an ordinance. The code authorizes county commissions to provide for elimination of hazards to public health and safety, and to abate or cause to be abated anything a county commission determines to be a public nuisance.

Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said he supported the idea of submitting legalization clearing up “once and for all” whether counties can implement spay-neuter ordinances.

“I would support legislation that allows them to make that decision,” Cole said.

Any time local lawmakers can introduce and support legislation that would create better living conditions in Mercer and McDowell counties, they are willing to do that, Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, said. Counties should be able to enact spay-neuter ordinances.

“That is not only a public health issue. It is a safety and criminal issue,” Moore said. “Somebody is murdering these dogs. That’s unacceptable. It’s intolerable, and if somebody has that capacity to exact that kind of cruelty to animals, I wonder what state of mind they are in relating to humans.”

Another delegate said he was not certain whether counties could put such ordinances in place. Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said he would have no quarrel against letting counties decide on a county-by-county basis whether to have such spay-neuter regulations. He added that he would research whether counties cannot already enact spay-neuter ordinances.

“My attitude is that counties and cities should have as much authority as possible, “ said Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer. “If counties want that, I would like for them to have that opportunity.”

“If  I’m requested to do that, I would certainly be willing to do that,” Shott said of submitting a spay-neuter bill. “I would submit the bill, yes.”

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said he was not opposed to letting individual counties decide whether to have a spay-neuter ordinance. Placing such proposals on a ballot would allow local voters to tell their county commissions what they thought about the idea.

“If the people in the county wanted us to support that, I would go along with it,” Ellington said.

Sen. H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, was not available for comment.