Legislative Report 2/8/2016 - Of Elephants and Rhinos

The Vermont Statehouse is called "The People's House" not just because it is the seat of the legislative branch of state government, but also because it functions as a living museum and is open to the public. Every day during the legislative session, groups representing one interest or another visit with displays and information and talk to legislators one-on-one as well as testify in committees. One such group that visited last week were Vermonters representing the Humane Society. They were there to support six bills regarding the humane treatment of animals that have been introduced in the House and Senate. The bills include adequately sheltering dogs and cats kept outdoors (H.512), banning the use of lead ammunition when hunting (H.460), prohibiting the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows (H.374), prohibiting the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins (H.122), prohibiting the docking the tail of a cow (S.22), and restricting the sale of ivory and rhino horn products (H.297). While most of these bills have had committee hearings, H.297, the ivory bill, seems to be generating the most interest and is likely to be voted out of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee soon. There are a number of reasons this bill is moving forward: threat of species extinction, connection of trade to terrorism, and connecting interstate and intrastate requirements among others.

African elephants and rhinoceroses are in danger of being hunted to extinction solely for their tusks and horns. The numbers of African elephants have declined from around 4 million in the 1940s to about 350,000 today. While such hunting is illegal under the laws of African nations and the ivory and rhino horn trade is prohibited at the international level as well as by U.S. law, there is a thriving black market that funds terrorist groups and other criminal organizations. The only hope for the animal species is to try to shut down the market through legal efforts and education. The Endangered Species Act regulates the interstate trade of ivory in the U.S. and includes a proposal to allow only limited types of ivory products to be sold across state lines. It does not regulate sales of ivory or ivory products within a state. H.297 would apply similar restrictions to sales of ivory within Vermont.

H.297 does not prohibit simple possession of ivory. However, it would prohibit the sale of ivory or ivory products with some exceptions. For example, the sale of antiques as defined by federal requirements and of items weighing less than 200 grams, roughly 7 ounces, would not be prohibited. These conditions would allow the sale of most musical instruments, including pianos with ivory keys.

Among the visitors at the Humane Society reception in the statehouse cafeteria last week was a Charlotte student, Taegen Yardley, who attends Vermont Commons School in South Burlington. Taegen and several classmates produced a film about the illegal ivory trade and spoke to the attendees at the reception. The film can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRM6y3XnezE#t=144. H.297 will have my support when it comes to the floor.

Finally, Town Meeting Day is March 1st and includes the Presidential Primary in Vermont. I want to remind high school seniors that if they will turn 18 before the November election they are allowed to register and vote in the primary. Anyone who needs to register to vote can do so online at https://olvr.sec.state.vt.us/.

I welcome your thoughts and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).