By Mannix Porterfield
CHARLESTON — How does one define a dangerous bird?
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall posed the question Tuesday, moments before the 32-1 approval of a proposal to regulate the private ownership of animals not indigenous to West Virginia.
Hall’s question provoked some chuckles, but Senate Natural Resources Chairman Bill Laird, D-Fayette, lead sponsor of the “Dangerous Wild Animals Act,” took it seriously.
“I’m struggling to figure that one out,” Hall, R-Putnam, told Laird.
Hall explained that some of his constituents wondered if the proposed act would apply to parrots and the like.
In response, Laird said the bill is intended to address animals that could pose “an imminent danger” to the public health or native animals.
“So, it might be pigeons or whatever that you’re feeding, or whatever?” Hall persisted.
Then, he answered his line of questioning, noting that the bill, if approved by the House and signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, actually wouldn’t become law for another year.
The reason for the one-year delay is, that rules would have to be made by the Legislature next year once a special board comprised of representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Resources, and the Division of Natural Resources implements the bill’s intent.
Members of the board also would set up requirements for caging and enclosure for such animals, establish fees, enforcement of permits and an annual review of the list of prohibited animals.
“West Virginia is one of only eight states that lack any restrictions for dangerous wild animals kept by private individuals,” Laird told the Senate.
SB466 defines dangerous wild animals as any mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian or aquatic animal including hybrids that pose a threat to humans or other animals owing to their inherent nature, the senator said.
Excluded are wildlife, agriculture and domestic animals.
Unless specified in the measure, no one could own such an animal, and it allows police and county humane officers, along with the state veterinarian, to confiscate and euthanize any animals that pose “an imminent harm to the public,” Laird said.
In seeking a permit to keep such animals, he explained, an individual must provide proof of liability insurance. Violations are covered with both criminal and civil penalties.
In the showdown, the only dissenting vote was cast by Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston.
On another matter in the animal kingdom, the Senate passed 33-0 a bill that sets up a special account to spay and neuter feral cats and dogs, viewed as problematic across the state.
Agriculture Chairman Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, said his bill allows for grants to cover the cost of treating such pets.
The idea is to reduce the populations in shelters and euthanasia rates, along with threats to public safety, Miller said.
Grants to cover the costs will be administered by the Department of Agriculture and set the rules for the spay/neuter program, he noted.