By Susan Haigh
HARTFORD (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers are wrestling with a bill that bans the import, sale and purchase of ivory or rhinoceros horns, with some voicing concern about the impact on collectors whose treasures could be rendered worthless.
The legislation is intended to make Connecticut's laws conform with those in nearby New Jersey and New York, sending a message that this state won't be a haven for the illegal trade. The Humane Society of the United States estimates nearly 100 elephants are killed daily for their ivory tusks.
But some members of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee suggested the bill, which cleared the committee on Tuesday, is written too broadly.
"We're talking about animals that have been dead for 40 years or more and the ivory is attached to a known, dateable relic," said Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, who pointed out how some old collectable firearms with ivory grips, dating back to World War II and other wars, could be affected by the proposal.
"This would make them essentially worthless," Dubitsky said.
As currently written, the bill makes it a class B misdemeanor — punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine or both — if someone offers the banned products for sale or possesses them with the intent to sell. The bill now exempts ivory and rhinoceros horn that is at least 100 years old, was part of a musical instrument constructed before Jan. 2, 1975, was authorized under a federal license or permit, and is for a hospital, museum or university for educational, scientific or conservation purposes.
The bill describes ivory as any animal's tooth or tusk, including but not limited to those from an elephant, hippopotamus, narwhal, walrus or whale.
Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, said it has been difficult to exempt the collectible ivory pieces because there are concerns someone might try to claim that a piece is old when it is not.
"It's going to be difficult to date the ivory," he said.
However, Dubitisky said the Environment Committee recently heard testimony from some experts who said it is possible to distinguish between old and new ivory.
Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, said the legislation, which moves to the House of Representatives for further action, may be changed between now and the end of this year's legislative session to address lawmakers' concerns.
The U.S. is one of 179 countries that are parties to an international treaty that restricts international trade of certain plants and animals. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora regulates the commercial and noncommercial trade of elephants, including the animal's ivory and ivory products.
Elephant ivory is also regulated under other U.S. laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the African Elephant Conservation Act.
But Cathy Kangas of New Canaan, a member of the Humane Society's board of directors, recently submitted testimony that said current federal law is "confusing and riddled with loopholes by those involved in the international and domestic ivory trade." She said that has led to consumer confusion about what is legal or illegal, resulting in a "flourishing, poorly regulated domestic ivory trade in the United States."