COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A state legislator said Wednesday that he hopes a bill that would ban new ownership of exotic pets will prevent situations such as the one in eastern Ohio last year that led to 48 animals being shot to death after their suicidal owner let them loose.
In a prepared statement for the first hearing on the bill, Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson said he crafted the proposal after meeting with animal professionals, pet owners and animal welfare groups.
"The goals ... are simple: To protect our citizens, to preserve legitimate, law-abiding individuals who care for wild animals and to put standards in place to ensure the safety of these animals," he said.
The bill was getting its first hearing before a Senate committee following its introduction last week. Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets.
Balderson is from Zanesville, near the farm where a man released dozens of wild animals before killing himself in October. Authorities fatally shot most of the pets to protect residents.
"This terrible incident brought to light this fact: Ohio has no laws to govern the ownership of animals such as lions, tigers and primates. When considering the safety of our neighbors and the standards of care we offer to our animals, it is quite clear how this is entirely unacceptable," he said.
The bill would ban new ownership of exotic animals, allowing current owners to keep their pets by obtaining a permit by 2014. They'd be required to pass a background check, obtain insurance, microchip their pets and show that they adhere to care standards and have taken safety measures, such as fencing property. Zoos, circuses, sanctuaries and research facilities would be exempt.
The bill has been criticized by the nonprofit Ohio Association of Animal Owners, which says it opposes plans to "eradicate" exotic animals form the state and believes residents should have the right to own, breed, sell and exhibit animals as long as they are properly housed and cared for.
The measure has the support of Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Columbus Zoo. The head of the Humane Society of the United States has said the measure would be a vast improvement for Ohio but had concerns over certain exemptions and snake ownership rules.
The bill would let owners of constricting and venomous snakes keep their reptiles, but they must have safety plans in place in case the snakes got out. Owners could still breed and acquire new snakes.
"I believe that the restrictions placed on snake owners in this bill are sufficient to ensure public safety, but also allow this very large industry to continue in Ohio," Balderson said.