Keep new animal regulations in place

There certainly have been missteps in implementing a new West Virginia law to restrict ownership of dangerous animals. But they have not been serious enough for state legislators or Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to consider a suggestion the measure be repealed.

Controls on animals that could be dangerous to the public or to the state’s ecosystem are long overdue. It took a 2011 tragedy in Ohio, in which dozens of animals were set free by a deranged owner, to prompt action on the matter. Many of the creatures in Ohio, including lions and tigers, had to be killed to safeguard the public.

West Virginia’s new statute leaves it up to a special panel, the Wild and Dangerous Animals Board, to compile the list of creatures to be covered. Ownership of them will be banned or restricted.

After members of the board released their proposal earlier this year, some people protested inclusion of certain animals. Indeed, it appeared the panel had erred in listing some creatures, such as turtles and hedgehogs.

But board members listened to the public. They have amended the list, reportedly using Ohio’s statute as a template. A decision on whether to approve the new proposal is scheduled for this week.

Before the measure can be enforced, legislators must approve, amend or reject the list, however. That provides additional time for the public to comment and for changes, if necessary, to be made.

Nevertheless, one legislator wants the whole idea scrapped. Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, has suggested his fellow lawmakers repeal the bill.

Kump’s objection appears to be based on libertarian grounds. “Giving any kind of agency this kind of authority over the lives of citizens is just silly,” he commented.

Indeed, the law is strict. Ownership of some animals would be banned altogether. Others would be restricted. People who already own animals on the list would be able to keep them by paying annual fees, however.

Perhaps legislators should look at some aspects of the measure. If the fee structure appears to be onerous, it could be amended.

But simply repealing the law is not a good approach. Regulations on ownership of certain animals are needed in West Virginia. Scrapping the bill and attempting to start over risks a lengthy delay or even failure to adopt regulations. Tomblin and legislators should keep the law in place, altering it if necessary.