Unfortunately, legislation affecting the keeping of reptiles (and many other animals) is being proposed at all levels of government from federal and state, to county, municipality, or village and township. Oftentimes, some sort of publicized incident or escape of a reptile or other “exotic” animal is usually enough to initiate a response by local officials to consider an ordinance. Regardless of how commonplace they actually are, these types of incidents are often reported on in local news media, but ordinances that come of them seldom are.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to monitor or catch everything which may be being proposed at the local level in every body of local government unless there is someone who is diligent and has been paying attention in their local area. This is why we require the help and participation of everyone in tracking local ordinances. It is up to herpers and other stakeholders to make their voices heard. Local and elected officials often cannot be counted upon to spend the time examining the implications of these types of ordinances themselves or to notify affected stakeholders. Oftentimes, it is simply a matter of educating the appropriate board and other council members, just as with other members of the community (some, for example, may not even be aware that most pet stores now carry reptiles & their supplies, or that reptiles are now widespread pets in over 13 million households). Without hearing from their constituents, most elected officials will simply assume the ordinance will have no impact, or only a very small impact, and tend to pass them unopposed and undetected.
To Monitor for Local Ordinances in Your Community, Check:
Most have meeting agendas posted beforehand both at city/village halls, and online through the governing body’s respective website. This requires getting to know regular meeting schedules for the Common Council. Oftentimes, the process may be two pronged, with a preceding committee proposing, discussing, and making changes to an ordinance before it is presented to the Common Council. Both types of committees are typically open to the public. The exact committees that handle reptile and exotic animal ordinances vary from community to community, but in most cases, it is a public health, safety, licensing & ordinance, or similar committee. **Make a bookmark or desktop shortcut to your community’s relevant upcoming city council or other committee agendas. This way, they can be very quickly accessed and remembered.** Unfortunately, unlike state legislatures or other state and federal agency websites, local governments usually do not have specific ordinance or legislation notification services, but may still have the option to sign up for email notifications for specific committee meetings and hearings. Local and municipal agendas and minutes are also often posted and updated regularly at your local city hall and other community centers as well. Some communities, depending on their size and population, may also have legislative rosters of ordinances and resolutions currently being considered, and/or other separate legislative action centers online.
Any state without Dangerous Wild Animal legislation and/or anti reptile legislation already in place can certainly be expected to be a target for anti pet organizations. Other states may still be subject to, or vulnerable to further legislation or rule changes as well. All state legislature websites have a variety of search options and features to find proposed legislation for current and past legislative sessions. Many states also have email and IM legislative notification and tracking services using keywords, subjects, bill numbers (once known), and others.
Becoming familiar with the local, state, and even federal legislative and regulatory processes, schedules, and commonly used terms and definitions can also be of benefit as well. These processes may vary somewhat depending on the area one lives in and the nature of government, but oftentimes is generally similar. Many local and state guides and resources are published on how you can become more politically active and involved, and can be found online or available by request.
USARK and PIJAC are the only reliable national trade association organizations representing pet owners, breeders, hobbyists, veterinarians, and many other sectors involved with reptiles and amphibians. Sign up for USARK’s and PIJAC’s free email list to stay up to date on news, information, and action items affecting herpetoculture on their website and on Facebook at http://pijac.org/
Many states have local, state, and/or regional herpetological societies or other state level organizations with the same or similar missions and functions as USARK. Sign up to become an active member and participant for one or more of these organizations that may be in your area.
-All of these secondary aggregator sources rely on, and need *YOUR* help in monitoring for, and fighting local and state ordinances. They can’t do it all themselves or monitor for legislation in every city, county, or municipality.
-Don’t assume that someone else is already aware, that someone else is taking care of it, or that the species you keep or have an interest in will not be affected. Chances are, none of these will be the case! Remember, each one of us is USARK.
-Before raising the alarm, be sure the source of information is reliable and accurate. Reliable sources include a news article with mention of a proposed ordinance, a post or form of proposed legislation or ordinance on a government website, or personal contact/communication with legislators or local officials.
-Once an ordinance or bill is confirmed, spread the word by informing USARK and/or another secondary source listed above with as much information as possible.
Wisconsin State Administrative Rules and Statutes to be Aware Of:
Chapter ATCP 12 – Animal Markets, Dealers And Truckers
Chapter ATCP 10 – Animal Diseases And Movement
Chapter NR 16 – Captive Wildlife
Chapter NR 40 – Invasive Species Identification, Classification And Control
Chapter NR 27 – Endangered And Threatened Species
So How Do I Change an Existing Law or Ordinance in My Area?
Another commonly asked, and related question is how does one go about changing, or amending, an existing law or ordinance which has already been passed at some previous point in time in one’s area. Unfortunately, local and even state laws and ordinances are often much more difficult to have amended once they have been passed, or at least require much more time and effort to do so than many people are willing to spend until they may be personally affected. This is not to say that amending a law or ordinance cannot be done, but doing so usually takes much more grassroots effort than before the ordinance may have been passed, and generally tends to happen much less frequently than it perhaps should.
In any event, it is vital that one is already in compliance with any local ordinances that they wish to amend, as not doing so, or causing issues with the city already will probably not place you in very good standing with these committees. Even if someone from the city/municipality tells you it is okay to ignore the ordinance or to keep the animal(s) in question, doing so isn’t a good idea as it is the letter of the law which matters, and the next city official may tell you differently, which can just become a “he/she said/they said” situation.
Most City Council meetings and/or specialized committees or sub-committees an ordinance may be introduced in and passed through before reaching the Council have opportunities for public comment in which the rules, procedures, and formalities may vary from area to area. However, it is usually unlikely that the hearing committee will reconsider or take action on the issue if they only hear from one or two people showing up to testify. Gathering much wider spread and organized public support or opposition in the form of signed letters, petitions, or best yet, attending bodies gathered through grassroots efforts at any local reptile/pet shows or expos, pet stores, veterinary clinics, and other individuals and businesses may be much more likely to persuade the relevant committees to act on, or revisit the issue.
Reaching out to and contacting your local council members and representatives outlining the issues with the current ordinances or law, and what changes one would wish to see in a clear and concise manner with the goal of getting one or more of them to sponsor or co-sponsor an amendment or resolution is perhaps the best bet for changing local laws and ordinances. Although certainly not ideal, being reasonable and realistic will likely be more successful than taking an all or nothing approach at this stage. Sometimes, a local council person themselves may be personally affected or sponsor an amendment, although this happens much more rarely. As previously mentioned, it is important to remain polite and civil, as not doing so, and/or disregarding existing laws and ordinances and causing issues for city officials with one’s animals will certainly diminish the credibility of your cause greatly, if not to zero.
If a local councilperson friendly and supportive of the cause can be found to sponsor an amendment, it then usually will go through the city or county clerk to be placed as an agenda or action item on an upcoming agenda, and then proceed through that municipality or county’s typical legislative process. However, there will be no guarantees that any amendments or resolutions that do get introduced ultimately pass and change the ordinance in question favorably as it will still be up to the voting body of the council and the committees as a whole, although a passionate council member can often provide greater influence to the rest of the committee. Ultimately, if a favorable ordinance amendment does pass, be sure to thank the sponsor(s) as well as all other involved members of the committee for their time, effort, and commitment to serving their constituents, and maintaining a lasting working relationship with them in a positive manner will also be greatly beneficial. If, however, an ordinance amendment ultimately does not pass, or gets voted down, don’t become too discouraged, as many council members may be open to continuing to re-visit the issue in the future. More information, support, and resources on changing one’s local laws and ordinances can also be found on the PIJAC, USARK, and your local or regional herpetological society or similar organizations which may be in your area all working to preserve your freedoms to enjoy reptiles and amphibians.