New Jersey’s Nosey’s Law & It’s Impact

As from NEHS’s President, Kurt Schatzl:
Massachusetts reptile folks: does this look familiar?

It should. It’s an iteration of S490, which we helped defeat here last year.

This legislation and variations of it are circulating in town halls and Senate and House hearing rooms in 175 different communities (Phil Goss. Pers, comm.)

This bill sits on Governor Christie’s desk as I write this, awaiting his signature which will make it law, effectively ending ALL education with wildlife, domestic or exotic.

The NEHS has been very active and has become very adept at sniffing out bills like this and defeating them. Each state needs it’s own herpetological society, now more than ever.

Get some like minded folks together and start a herp society in your state. Don’t know how? We can help you get started.

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NOSEY’S LAW MAKES WAY MORE THAN CIRCUSES ILLEGAL IN NEW JERSEY

Nosey’s Law – the new “elephant protection” law that was just passed in the New Jersey Senate and sits on Governor Chris Christie’s desk, awaiting his signature – has turned out to be a complete mess, both with regard to what it actually effects as well as the political motivations of the various advocacy groups that pushed it through. Named after an infamous privately owned circus elephant, the Nosey’s Law the public thought they were supporting would have simply protected elephants from being used in traveling entertainment acts; but instead, it effectively outlaws all mobile animal education programs in the state.

In its first incarnation, Nosey’s Law emulated anti-circus bills previously enacted in New York and Illinois that prohibit the use of elephants in traveling animal acts (or even any type of entertainment at all). Instead, imprecise language about what constitutes a “traveling act” and a “performance” in the original bill allowed an overly broad amendment to expand the scope of the ban from just elephants to all wild and exotic animals. The combination of the two means that not only is using elephants in any sort of travelling exhibition illegal, but that any mobile business utilizing exotic or wild animals for any type of exhibition, in any way, is also in violation of the new law. While this may seem like good news to those readers who want to see all animals removed from traveling entertainment, this actually has much further reaching effects: any businesses doing wildlife outreach and conservation education programs with a live wild animal collection will be completely eliminated by the passage of this law. These highly valuable services and exhibitions are not the type of animal entertainment that the public expected Nosey’s Law to prohibit. Not only do they often serve to support the continued existence of wildlife rehabilitation facilities and exotic animal rescues, they are also often the only access underprivileged communities have to education about the natural world.

The amended text of Nosey’s Law reads:
“Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

1. a. Notwithstanding any other law, or any rule or regulation adopted pursuant thereto, to the contrary, no person shall use an elephant 1or other wild or exotic animal1 in a traveling animal act.
b. Any person who violates this section shall be subject to the penalties provided in section 10 of P.L.1973, c.309 (C.23:2A-10), except that the criminal penalties provided in subsection f. of that section shall not apply.
c. As used in this section:
“Mobile or traveling housing facility” means a vehicle, including a truck, trailer, or railway car, used to transport or house an animal used for performance.
“Performance” means any animal act, carnival, circus, display, exhibition, exposition, fair, parade, petting zoo, presentation, public showing, race, ride, trade show, or similar undertaking in which animals perform tricks, give rides, or participate as accompaniments for the entertainment, amusement, or benefit of a live audience.
“Traveling animal act” means any performance which requires an animal to be transported to or from the location of the performance in a mobile or traveling housing facility.
2. This act shall take effect immediately.”
The important parts to note are that it applies to all wild or exotic animals in addition to elephants, and that it prohibits any public showing of these animals for the benefit of the public. Even when this bill just dealt with elephants, this wording still would have been overly broad in comparison with similar extant legislation. Both the New York and Illinois elephant-specific laws were carefully written to make sure they didn’t accidentally prohibit legitimate educational presentations: New York banned the use of elephants in any type of entertainment, travelling or not, but they emphasized the entertainment part of the definition and included an exemption for programs run by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and wildlife sanctuaries; Illinois (the existing law most similar to what Nosey’s Law purported to be) chose to emphasize that they were banning travelling elephant acts and made sure they exempted any “non-mobile, permanent institution, or other facility.”

If this legislation has passed as it was originally written, the vagaries of the wording wouldn’t have affected the actual implementation – there aren’t any facilities in the state of New Jersey taking their elephants off-site for educational programs. So how did this bill go from specifically restricting elephants to a disaster for educational businesses? On 12/18/2017, the Assembly Appropriations Committee amended the text of the bill, adding six words that changed the fundamental purpose of the law: “or other wild or exotic animals.”

The term “exotic animal” is far broader than many people realize, and “wild animal” is even more so. In general, both terms not only encompass the iconic megafauna like bears and tigers, but also many species the general public encounters regularly, such as guinea pigs and canaries. Nosey’s Law does not define what is considered a wild or an exotic animal, and it does not reference any other extant definitions (the text is marked as if the definition will be in a footnote, but no such footnote exists at the time of this writing). The bill, if passed, will be an addition to Title 23 of the New Jersey State statutes. According to the definitions found in that document, an exotic animal is “any nongame species or mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian not indigenous to New Jersey”. There appears to be no extant definition of a wild animal – the closest is the definition of “wildlife,” which is “any wild mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, mollusk, crustacean or other wild animal.” These definitions are, in keeping with the rest of the bill, incredibly broad, but it appears that the most likely interpretation of the bill is that it will outlaw use of all non-domestic species of animals in any sort of mobile exhibition or outreach.

This means that if Governor Christie signs this bill into law, the addition of those six words will make it illegal for educational outreach companies to help children fall in love with wild animals through entertaining – but informative – events. It will make it illegal for wildlife rescues to raise funding for their rehabilitation programs by doing presentations about raptor conservation with the unreleasable animals in their care. And, because the bill was not written with any of the normal exemptions, there are six zoos – three of which are accredited by the “gold standard” Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (a group that almost always has exemptions from restrictive animal management laws) – it will also make it illegal for facilities like the Turtleback Zoo to run the classroom programs where they teach first-graders about the astounding diversity found in nature with the help of specially trained ambassador animals.

While this may seem like a mistake – surely, nobody who loves animals could purposefully attempt to do such damage to educational programs – some of the biggest proponents of the bill indicated in their comments this is /exactly/ what was intended to occur. The headline of PETA’s celebratory blog post applauds New Jersey for banning “all wild-animal acts.” PETA, an organization known for their animal liberation ethos, truly wants to end all use of animals by humans in any capacity – even for educational purposes that might encourage people to care about animals. They even openly celebrated the passing of Nosey’s Law as the first step in closing all zoos (although the reference to zoos was quickly and quietly removed from the blog post, likely to avoid cluing in the duped supporters of Nosey’s Law to their true intentions).

The oddest thing about all of this is that Nosey’s Law is damaging the business practices of multiple facilities accredited by the AZA less than six months after they very publicly teamed up with PETA’s legislation-focused counterpart, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The CEO of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, wrote publicly about the need for the two organizations “to unite to fight cruelty and promote conservation,” and yet both Pacelle and the HSUS New Jersey State Director both widely praised the passing of a law that actively damages the conservation efforts of multiple AZA zoos. HSUS and PETA do not frequently present themselves to the public as flip sides of the same coin, but their VP of wildlife affairs, Nicole Paquette, has stated publicly that the two organizations have the same goals, simply different methods of achieving them; in light of that, it might seem that Nosey’s Law is the first stumbling block for the overly optimistic partnership between a zoological organization and an animal rights advocacy group. However, the comments made by both the HSUS New Jersey State Director and Pacelle about the law passing indicated that they believed the bill to be entirely focused on ending circus acts using wild animals. Pacelle, specifically, opened his blog post on the topic with a statement that the law bans “almost all wild-animal acts” when the bill as written in fact bans every exotic animal act.

While this slight discrepancy might not be a big deal from most authors, the HSUS CEO is a man whose books are written in collaboration with former White House speech writers and whose blog posts frequently include vocabulary that even well-educated readers occasionally have to look up in a dictionary – it is utterly uncharacteristic of him to allow anything to be published under his name to include a mischaracterization of what he himself dubbed the “biggest win yet” for ending the use of wild animals in circuses. So what happened – how did HSUS end up enthusiastically supporting a bill that is so blatantly damaging to their newest collaborator?
Given that PETA actively celebrated the damage Nosey’s Law will do to New Jersey zoos, and both HSUS people speaking publicly about the bill didn’t seem to realize the true scope of the bill – the HSUS New Jersey State Director didn’t even seem to be sure about what species of animals would be covered by the ban – maybe HSUS was caught as unaware as the general public was by the “wild and exotic animal” language amendment. The bill was amended very late in the legislative process – more than a year after the bill was originally introduced to the Senate floor – and it’s possible the additional language could have gone unnoticed by animal advocacy organizations until it was too late.

And that’s really the take-home lessons we’ve all learned from this Nosey’s Law debacle – whether you’re a member of interested public or a public figure heavily involved in animal advocacy, it’s crucial to keep a close watch on the evolution of proposed legislation. Even the smallest changes to the wording of a bill can have big consequences, and in this case, six little words that went unnoticed in what was intended to be a fairly targeted piece of animal protection legislation might destroy the majority of conservation and wildlife education opportunities for New Jersey residents.

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