Ohio’s Exotic Animal Bill with Insurance Requirement Advances

By | April 26, 2012

A proposal to regulate ownership of lions, monkeys and other dangerous exotic animals in Ohio cleared a state legislative panel on April 25 and was headed to the full Senate for an afternoon vote.

The state Senate’s agriculture panel unanimously approved the bill after making additional changes that included giving Ohio’s agriculture director the ability to authorize permits to owners who might be shy of acreage requirements in the legislation.

The measure would ban new ownership of exotic animals in the state at the bill’s effective date. It would allow current owners to keep their creatures by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and meeting other strict conditions.

Ohio has some of the nation’s weakest restrictions on exotic pets. And efforts to strengthen the regulations took on new urgency in October after owner Terry Thompson let 56 animals — including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers — escape from his eastern Ohio farm in Zanesville before committing suicide. Authorities were forced to kill 48 of the animals in an effort to protect the public.

Republican State. Sen. Troy Balderson, the bill’s sponsor and a Zanesville native, said Ohio does have responsible animal owners who should be able to keep their wildlife.

“We have to protect those people,” Balderson told reporters. “Let them take care of those animals. Because we have nowhere to put them, we have no way to pay for them.”

The proposal is less strict than a framework suggested last year by a state study committee that Gov. John Kasich convened. The group had recommended a more stringent ban on exotic animals.

Balderson said his bill has enough regulations to make sure animal owners are kept in check.

Permit fees for lions, tigers and other dangerous animals would begin at $500. Insurance policies for dangerous animals could reach as high as $1 million, depending on the number kept. Owners would be required to pass a background check and show inspectors that they adhere to care standards and have taken safety measures such as fencing property.

State officials aren’t sure how many wild animals the bill would affect.

“That’s part of the problem — we don’t know,” said state Sen. Cliff Hite, a Findlay Republican and the committee’s chairman.

Testimony on the proposal wrapped up after more than 30 opponents, including many animal owners, lined up to speak against the bill.

Balderson said lawmakers made a number of changes to the bill based on concerns from owners and other opponents.

For instance, owners could obtain surety bonds in lieu of liability insurance to give more options to individuals. Another revision would allow the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture to issue temporary waivers to owners who are trying to get accreditation to obtain a permit.

Additional changes exempted service monkeys that help the disabled and constricting snakes that are less than 12 feet long. Other tweaks decrease requirements that warning signs be posted every 10 feet around an owner’s property. The bill also exempts animals from required microchip implantation if it would endanger their health.

Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups and licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be exempt from the bill, along with sanctuaries and research institutions.

The legislation has the support of Kasich, the Columbus Zoo, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and others. It would still need approval from the Republican-controlled House before going to the governor’s desk.