The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 18, 2012

Deer farm transfer bill hits temporary snag in the Senate

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Putting deer farms under the Department of Agriculture ran into a temporary stall Friday, allowing time to end a “feud” between them and Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro.

Rather than vote on SB421, the Senate agreed to detour the legislation to the Rules Committee and afterward, two leaders insisted the bill is in no trouble.

Idea of the legislation is to remove the fledgling industry from the supervision of the Division of Natural Resources and turn it over to the agriculture agency.

Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the delay was sought by Agriculture Chairman Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, to bring the two sides together.

“It’s absolutely not in trouble,” Unger said of the bill. “It’s just to give them more time to bring together those parties that have been feuding for all these years. We want to bring that feud to an end. Hopefully, we can do that in the next couple of days.”

Deer farmers insist the DNR hamstrings their industry with unreasonable rules, chiefly one that bars them from selling whitetail venison.

Jezioro, however, says the DNR needs to maintain the reins to protect West Virginia’s wild deer herd from disease.

What’s more, the director says allowing the sale of venison would trigger poaching of wild deer.

Miller said he wants some time to meet with the DNR early next week to clear up some rumors associated with the bill.

“The bill is not in trouble as we see it,” he said. “We also want to see where it’s going in the House.”

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In another venture into the animal kingdom, the Senate voted 32-1 to limit the possession of wild and exotic animals.

Natural Resources Chairman Bill Laird, D-Fayette, said West Virginia is one of eight states lacking any restrictions on such animals kept on private property.

Under the bill, the DNR, Agriculture, and Bureau of Public Health via rule-making would develop a comprehensive list of what is deemed “a wild and exotic animal,” Laird said.

Only Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, voted against the bill.

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Read for a first time was SB406, aimed at regulating so-called “puppy mills,” and advocated by the Humane Society of the United States.

“West Virginia needs to enact strong restrictions on the ownership of dangerous exotic animals and clamp down on puppy mills,” said Summer Wyatt, state director for the Humane Society.

Breeders would be restricted to 50 unsterilized dogs over a year old. Breeding facilities would be licensed annually and inspected twice annually under legislation sponsored by Delegate Virginia Mahan, D-Summers, and Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall.

Other measures passed unanimously, including one making gambling winnings conform with federal law on tax withholding.

Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the tax on winnings is pegged at 6.5 percent.

The state Tax Department has estimated that some $7.2 million in the winnings tax is going uncollected, Prezioso said.

Another bill lets the Division of Motor Vehicles issue up to five Class A vehicle plates for investigative purposes only.

Prezioso said the bill also obligates cities to provide the commissioner with a list of vehicles used by law enforcement agencies.

Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said SB471 alters the process for paying mental hygiene commissioners.

Current practice calls for them to turn in invoices to circuit courts, which then forward them to the state Supreme Court.

Palumbo said the change lets commissioners be “reasonably compensated” at a uniform rate the high court determines. They would be allowed to submit their invoices directly to the bench.

Another bill approved clarifies that the Public Employees Insurance Agency is not considered an insurer or engaged in the insurance business.

Senators also passed SB493 that allows law enforcement vehicles used in covert and undercover operations to use sun-screened windows.

The first update since 1913 in West Virginia’s livestock trespass law gained unanimous approval. Miller said the bill addresses damages by trespassing livestock and those put up at auctions.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com