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Is West Virginia Government Incompetent, Corrupt, or Both?
 
In regards to the new Dangerous Wild Animal Act, West Virginia seems to be in state of disarray where a rubber stamp process without any actual work is standard operating procedure. Due process has been violated with obvious attempts to sweep this violation under the rug. State legislators have misinformed their constituents about what has happened to hundreds of pages of comments that were submitted timely and completely ignored. The clear path and guidelines provided to decision makers has been completely ignored.

There are so many questions surrounding what has happened this year in West Virginia. Where are the legally required justifications for listing animals as Dangerous Wild Animals (DWAs)? What happened to hundreds of pages of comments mysteriously missing from the official record for Proposed Rule 61-30 (Dangerous Wild Animal Act)?

According to the language of the new DWA Act, the Dangerous Wild Animal Board (DWAB) must follow legal requirements to justify each animal that is listed as a DWA. However, the DWAB has refused to provide the public with this information. Why would the DWAB refuse to provide the public with its justifications? After all, the DWAB is legally required to have justifications for listings.

When the DWAB initially listed thousands of animals as DWAs, it should be fairly obvious that it had no list of justifications. In early July, hundreds of pet owners sent Governor Tomblin a letter stating that the “DWAB has failed to provide any justification for listing entire scientific categories of animals or even the few specifically listed animals. Are citizens supposed to guess what justifications the DWAB has relied upon in making its list?” The letter also stated it is “extraordinarily doubtful that the DWAB has researched all of the listed species.”

Pet owners, concerned residents and even national organizations are still asking questions. Is it not clear the DWAB has failed to follow the law and conduct the necessary research before listing DWAs? Where is the original research used to create the list of thousands of DWAs? Where is the research to justify the revised list of DWAs? Why is this legally required research being kept a secret? Is this how WV Government should function?

After the DWAB finalized its proposed rule on August 2, 2014, pet owners began to realize that their comments had been partially and sometimes fully removed from the official record. It is now known that hundreds of pages of comments are missing from the official record. View the press release discussing this at 
www.us4.campaign-archive1.com/?u=d7e8c81109173978c4240862c&id=075fb64c08&e=925750ed65.

This is a clear violation of the WV law known as the Administrative Procedures Act. What happened to all these comments? Were these comments intentionally deleted or was the removal of these comments from the official record merely gross incompetence? One thing is clear. There are hundreds of pages of comments that have not been given the meaningful consideration required by WV law. Many of the missing comments were provided by experts in their fields, national associations and even biologists. View the verified missing comments that were submitted before the deadline during the comment period at
www.usark.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/WV-Missing-Comments.pdf.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned legal issues, the Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee (LRMRC) has scheduled the proposed DWA rule to be approved on November 17, 2014. This is following a tabling of the proposed rule at an October meeting by the LRMRC. Will the Committee steamroll its citizens and democratic process by rubber stamping this proposed rule? Is anybody going to stand up for the rule of law in WV and make government officials accountable to answer all the questions that have been raised? At the very least, the Committee must immediately schedule a public hearing where pet owners can get the answers to their questions and this proposed rule should be tabled until a full investigation of this due process violation can be completed. Is it too much to ask for the WV government to follow their own laws?

 
Previous WV Dangerous Wild Animal Act Update
From 11/1/14 and archived HERE

USARK continues our diligent work in West Virginia. Last week, while USARK President was at the ARAV conference (see below), USARK's legal counsel Rick Stanley headed to WV to speak at a hearing regarding the WV DWA Rule. We had short notice for this interim meeting of the WV Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee (LRMRC) to approve or amend several proposed rules. In case you missed our press release regarding this issue, you can view it at www.usark.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/WV-DWA-Press-Release-1.pdf.

Thanks to Stanley's presence and USARK's pressure, the DWA Rule was tabled and USARK can continue to gain support in WV to combat this rule. Some WV legislators are feeding false information to their constituents and the media. This includes stating, to television press and at the hearing, that 137 comments were submitted after the deadline for the public comment period. Through our efforts, we have confirmed that this is false. The 137 comments reported as late were actually 137 pages of comments submitted on time by WV USARC and omitted from the official record.

Though attempts were made to completely dismiss Stanley's presence at the meeting, he was not going to allow this to happen. He made his presence known and wasn't going to leave without getting the truth out there. Stanley also had a lengthy conversation with a Senator following the meeting.

USARK and dedicated WV herpers are making waves within the state. Support is growing from the pet and academic communities to continue this fight. View a recent news story and video at 
www.wowktv.com/story/26834992/reptile-group-says-public-comments-omitted-in-proposal-to-lawmakers-in-charleston-wv.

There is much more to this story. The Dangerous Wild Animal Board (DWAB), by law, must find that each species listed meets justifications for being listing as a Dangerous Wild Animal (DWA). This has not happened, and combined with hundreds of pages of missing comments, this DWA Rule should be again tabled at the next LRMRC meeting until a complete investigation and public hearing can be conducted and due process followed. This will lead to the realization that the DWA Rule is unjust, over-bearing and should be replaced with reasonable legislation.

To be continued... 

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