CARSON CITY — It was all about lions and tigers and bears (oh my) — not to mention alligators and polar bears and giant pandas — at an Assembly hearing Thursday on a bill to regulate ownership of exotic animals.
Assembly Bill 238 would prospectively prohibit people from owning, importing, selling or breeding a dangerous wild animal in Nevada. It was heard by the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee. No immediate action was taken on the measure.
Regulated animals would also include many varieties of snakes, primates other than humans and a host of other creatures defined as dangerous.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen, D-Henderson, would grandfather in existing owners but set minimum standards to protect public safety, including a requirement for a liability insurance policy of at least $250,000.
Cohen said public safety for residents who do not know what animals may be living next door or down the street, not to mention first responders who may come to a home with a dangerous animal, are the motivations for the legislation.
Welfare of such animals kept improperly at a residence is another concern, she said.
In her introduction to the bill, Cohen checked off many concerns expressed about the bill that are not accurate. It does not affect zoos or sanctuaries, circuses or casino animal acts, she said.
Cohen said she has heard claims that the bill is intended to ban animals in the home or accomplish other nefarious goals, none of which are true.
Nevada has no such law on the books now regulating dangerous animals, and residents deserve some uniformity on how these animals will be accommodated in the state, Cohen said. Nevada should not be a haven for bad actors, she said.
Warren Hardy, a lobbyist representing the Humane Society of the United States, said both Clark and Washoe counties either have or are considering ordinances that are more restrictive than the measures proposed in the bill. But the state law would set a minimum standard for all counties, he said.
All but five states have some laws regulating the possession of dangerous animals, Hardy said.
Assemblyman Justin Watkins, D-Las Vegas, asked whether the bill should require a higher liability insurance level or even ban existing ownership if attacks are a concern.
Hardy said the bill is a “bare bones” attempt at setting statewide guidelines for ownership.
DOGS MORE DANGEROUS
Opponents said more people have died from interactions with dogs and horses than exotic animals. The last dangerous animal death was in 2001 in a licensed facility involving a tiger, said Scott Shoemaker, who runs an exotic animal facility in Pahrump called REXANO (Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership).
Critics said the bill is aimed at a perceived threat from the animals in question and called it a one-size-fits-all measure that does not take into account the difference in locations such as rural Nye County versus urban Las Vegas.
Hardy said many of those who spoke would not be affected by the bill.
Chuck Callaway, representing Las Vegas Police, supported the bill and recalled an incident he responded to when a black panther escaped from an owner’s property. While animal control is in charge of capturing such an animal, police officers are usually the first to respond, he said.
Contact Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.