An Ohio lawmaker introduced a proposal Thursday to ban new ownership of exotic animals in the state, months after authorities shot dozens of lions, tigers, bears and other wild creatures let loose by their suicidal owner.
Republican State Sen. Troy Balderson from Zanesville, the eastern Ohio city where the animals were shot, said owner Terry Thompson would not have passed the background check in his bill in order to get a permit to keep such animals.
Thompson had spent time in federal prison for possessing unregistered weapons.
Balderson said if his legislation becomes law, owners who have been convicted of a felony couldn't get the special permits from the state that would be needed to possess leopards, cheetahs and other dangerous and wild animals.
"It's a great movement forward is what we have here," Balderson said. "We have rules and regulations now."
Balderson told 10TV's Danielle Elias that he wanted to protect the public and the rights of property owners.
His measure would immediately prohibit people from acquiring new or additional dangerous wildlife.
Owners of lions, tigers and other large animals such as elephants and crocodiles would be banned in 2014 from keeping the creatures unless they acquired a wildlife shelter permit from the state. They would have to meet new caging requirements, obtain insurance, microchip the animals and adhere to strict care standards. Owners also would have to register their animals within 60 days of the law's effective date.
Zoos, circuses, sanctuaries and research facilities would be exempt.
Balderson said he wasn't sure how many animal owners in Ohio his legislation would affect.
The state has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets. Efforts to strengthen the state's law took on new urgency in October when authorities were forced to hunt down and kill 48 wild animals - including endangered Bengal tigers - after Thompson freed them from his Zanesville farm and then committed suicide.
Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna has criticized state lawmakers for not yet passing new regulations. Hanna, a former Columbus Zoo director, has taken issue with the idea of some owners being allowed to keep their animals because they would be grandfathered into any ban.
A spokeswoman for the Columbus Zoo said the facility and Hanna are supportive of the bill overall.
A hearing on Balderson's legislation is planned for Tuesday.
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.
The proposal is less strict than a framework suggested last year by a state study committee that Gov. John Kasich convened in April.
The group had recommended a more stringent ban on the casual ownership of exotic animals. Those who still owned restricted wildlife - such as bears, monkeys and others - in 2014 without proper licenses or exemptions would have the animals taken away by state or local officials.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Thursday the Kasich administration had reached an agreement with the Senate, and the governor is comfortable with it. He said in an email the new standards couldn't be met by casual owners of exotic wildlife, a group he said is more inclined to have problems with the dangerous animals.
"It's admittedly not everything we sought or that the working group recommended, but it's most of it and such a huge improvement from where Ohio has been that the governor is comfortable moving forward," Nichols said.
Kasich had supported the working group's recommendations, which had called for a tougher ban.
In addition to sanctuaries, there are a few other situations where people will still be allowed to own wild animals.
The ownership of many kinds of snakes including boa constrictors and pythons, is allowed under the new bill.
The owners must obtain a permit showing they have insurance, a supply of anti-venom and a plan in the event of an escape.
An exemption was also made for school mascots. Currently, Massillon High School, in northeast Ohio, has a tiger cub for a mascot.
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