Chairman Hall, Vice Chair Thompson, Ranking Member Fedor, and Members of the Committee. My name is Andrew Wyatt and I serve as president and CEO of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers. We are the trade association that advocates for responsible reptile ownership and trade nationwide. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify on behalf of our 1,200 members here in Ohio, 1,200 members who are also your constituents.
I represent hard working Ohio family businesses engaged in the practice of herpetoculture. Herpetoculture is the non-traditional agricultural pursuit of producing high quality, captive bred reptiles. We supply zoos, museums, research facilities, TV & film, collectors and the pet trade with an all American agriculture product. Businesses are not limited to livestock, but also include equipment manufacturers, dry goods & feed producers, and a substantial distribution chain. The Reptile Industry generates approximately $30 million annually in the state of Ohio. That is a fact. Thousands make their livings or supplement their incomes by farming reptiles. I would also like to point out that our members have long provided animals for Jack Hanna’s TV shows; and the Columbus Zoo purchased their biggest attraction, Fluffy the reticulated python, from one of our members. A reasoned and rational argument cannot be made that working with ANY reptiles presents any more public safety risk than traditional livestock and pets for which we readily accept the limited risks. Our members are gainfully employed, taxpaying citizens and, in the words of Senator Balderson, the reptile industry is “a very large industry” in Ohio.
If SB 310 passes in its current version, these Ohio business people will either go out of business, leave the state, or go underground.
USARK has attended and testified at all of the hearings regarding SB310 in the Senate to date. After review of all of the testimony, both opponent and proponent, a number of points have become clear:
- No one from ODA, ODNR, emergency responders, nor public institutions have made a compelling argument that reptiles pose any public safety risk in Ohio. Of the only three deaths in 22 years that can be attributed to captive reptiles, all three were the owners of the reptiles, not the public. You will hear some proponents voice opinions that reptiles are a risk to the public, or tell anecdotal stories of why reptiles are a risk; but they have not presented any evidence to that effect. They have not, because they cannot. The evidence does not exist.
- 90% of the impact of impact of SB310 is on the reptile industry; not private zoos, not the pet trade. The burden falls on the shoulders of members of the reptile industry.
- SB310 is an unfunded mandate. The Senate passed SB 310 by 30-1 without knowing how much it will cost, how many small businesses will be affected by it, and how the tax payers will cover their unfunded mandate. In the face of an $8 billion budget shortfall, Senator Balderson concedes that SB310 will likely cost the taxpayers of Ohio upwards of $800,000 to implement. That figure has not taken into account the costs to administer the permit system with inspections, confiscations, quarantines, etc. of an undetermined number of animals and facilities. Senator Hite stated that he doesn’t know how many animals are out there. It is likely that costs in the first year alone will be well in excess of $1 million. There have been statements from ODA that they can pay for all of this, but the reality is they have not demonstrated how they will pay for it. They have not, because they cannot. ODA does not know how they will pay for SB310.
- SB310 does not enhance public safety, because it discourages compliance. Prohibitive fees and unreasonable insurance requirements do not increase public safety. Arbitrary rule making authority does not increase public safety. What these measures do is insure NON-compliance because they create a prohibitive environment of distrust and fear. If you want to ensure public safety, there must be a willingness and ability to comply.
- USARK is calling for a reasonable alternative to SB310 that will truly address public safety, cost, and compliance. We have put much time and effort designing a sub bill that would satisfy pragmatic safety goals while allowing legitimate individuals and businesses to continue to operate without undue cost. Our proposal would encourage participation and compliance, protect emergency responders and significantly reduce the cost to the state of Ohio to implement.
I urge you to carefully consider the merits of SB310 as written. Please consider the benefits to Ohio citizens, businesses and public safety offered in the USARK proposed substitute bill. Please oppose SB310 as written and adopt the USARK alternative.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
UNITED STATES ASSOCIATION OF REPTILE KEEPERS
P.O. BOX 279
GRANDY, NC 27939-0279