Legislation that would tighten regulations on owning exotic animals in Ohio was headed Tuesday to the governor for his expected signature, months after authorities were forced to shoot dozens of lions, tigers and other dangerous wildlife released from a farm last fall.
The measure would ban new ownership of exotic animals, while allowing current owners to keep their creatures by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and adhering to strict new caretaking standards.
Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups would be exempt from the bill, along with sanctuaries and research institutions.
Ohio's restrictions on exotic pets are among the nation's weakest. Efforts to strengthen the law took on new urgency after Terry Thompson released 50 animals _ including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers _ from his eastern Ohio farm in Zanesville in October before he committed suicide. Authorities killed 48 of the animals as a public safety measure. Two others were believed to have been eaten by other animals.
The Ohio House passed the measure 87-9 with changes on Tuesday, and the Senate agreed to the revisions, which included lower permit fees and a lower minimum insurance requirement than the version senators passed last month.
State Rep. Brian Hill, a Zanesville Republican, said the exotic animal release in his hometown showed it was "essential" for the state to have proper regulations.
"The bill before us today sets standards in place for people to effectively care for these animals, while at the same time protecting the public," Hill said.
Permit fees for bears, tigers and other dangerous animals would begin at $250. And insurance policies for the creatures could range from $200,000 to as high as $1 million, depending on the number of animals.
Owners would be required to pass a background check and show inspectors that they adhere to care standards and have taken safety measures such as fencing their property. Signs would have to be posted on the property to alert people there were dangerous animals on the premises.
The House changes would exempt several types of small primates, including lemurs, from permit fees and certain restrictions. Owners would still have to register the animals, however.
Ohio officials aren't sure exactly how many wild animals or owners the bill would affect.
The state's agriculture director has told lawmakers the proposed permit fee structure might not cover the cost of the instituting the new regulations.
The bill cleared the Legislature after hours of testimony from distraught owners who had lined up in hearings to express concerns about having to get rid of the family pet or pay too high of a price to keep it, among other issues.
The Columbus Zoo and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation are among the measure's supporters.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich recalled the animal release in a statement Tuesday, saying that it was fortunate that the public and law enforcement officers weren't harmed.
"Next time we might not be so lucky, however, which is why I committed to doing everything we can to prevent a `next time,'" Kasich said, adding that he would sign the bill.