These Important Animal Protection Bills Were Passed During Virginia’s 2024 General Assembly Session

Virginia’s 2024 legislative session is in full swing, and PETA has been working with legislators to protect animals of all species and sizes, from mice to elephants. The bills below have been passed by their respective committees and are heading to the full legislative chambers for votes.

HB 1531

Patron: Del. Kathy Tran (D-18)

Summary as introduced: Cruelty to elephants; pain-inflicting training tools prohibited; actions for attachment; civil penalty. Prohibits using devices such as a bullhook, axe handle, or block and tackle or engaging in certain practices in order to discipline, train, or control the behavior of an elephant. The bill provides that any person who uses such devices or engages in certain practices that inflict fear or pain on or cause physical injury to an elephant is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $2,500 for the first offense and not to exceed $5,000 for subsequent violations. Finally, the bill provides that an action in equity may be brought to request an attachment for any devices prohibited by the bill against a person violating the provisions of the bill.

Status: The bill passed in the House of Delegates on February 13 by a vote of 63 “yeas” to 36 “nays.” It then passed in the Senate on February 26 with a vote of 29 “ayes” to 11 “nays.”

What it would do: This bill would ban the use of bullhooks and other pain-inflicting tools to discipline, train, or control elephants.

Why you should support it: A bullhook is a weapon used to terrorize, punish, and control elephants and break their spirits. It is steel-tipped, resembles a fireplace poker, and weighs about as much as a baseball bat. During training—which starts when baby elephants have just been prematurely separated from their distressed mothers—handlers strike, jab, poke, prod, and beat elephants. Trainers sink the sharp bullhook deep into sensitive areas around their mouth and eyes, behind their ears, inside their trunk, and in tender spots under their chin and around their feet.

PETA’s undercover investigation into Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—before our historic victory that led to the retirement of its long-suffering elephants—caught footage of horrific abuse of elephants backstage, including in Virginia. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the leading accrediting organization for reputable zoos in the U.S., announced a policy in 2019 that banned the use of bullhooks and now favors protected contact: safe, humane handling techniques that emphasize positive reinforcement and allow elephants to express natural behavior without the threat of violence or domination.

HB 580

A baby monkey in a cage who is being used in a laboratory experiment. They are clinging to the cage bars and looking down.

Patron: Del. Shelly A. Simonds (D-70)

Summary as introduced: Animal testing facilities; public notification; report. A BILL to direct the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to convene the Task Force on Transparency in Publicly Funded Animal Testing Facilities; report.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. § 1. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in collaboration with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (the Task Force), shall convene the Task Force on Transparency in Publicly Funded Animal Testing Facilities for the purpose of identifying potential deficiencies in publicly funded animal testing facilities, as that term is defined in § 3.2-6593.2 of the Code of Virginia, in the Commonwealth and recommending methods and context for making certain information about such animal testing facilities publicly available, including information pertaining to instances of noncompliance with federal animal welfare regulations, guidelines, or policies, as well as the care, use, and approximate numbers of animals used for research, education, testing, or other experimental, scientific, or medical purposes by each public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth, including animals not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. § 2131 et seq.).

The Task Force shall consist of legislators and stakeholders, including (i) representatives from one institution of higher education in the Commonwealth with Carnegie research classification R1, one institution of higher education in the Commonwealth with Carnegie research classification R2, and one institution of higher education in the Commonwealth with Carnegie research classification R3; (ii) representatives from three unaffiliated animal protection or animal welfare watchdog groups in the Commonwealth; (iii) an individual who serves as a member of an institutional animal care and use committee at one of the Commonwealth’s publicly funded animal testing facilities; (iv) a Virginia-licensed American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine–certified veterinarian functioning in the role of attending veterinarian at one of the Commonwealth’s publicly funded animal testing facilities; (v) a representative of the Virginia Press Association; (vi) a representative of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government; (vii) a member of the Virginia Freedom of Information [Advisory] Council; and (viii) two members of the Senate appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules and two members of the House of Delegates appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates.

The Task Force shall report its findings and recommendations on how to improve transparency at publicly funded animal testing facilities in the Commonwealth to the House Committees on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, Finance, and Appropriations and the Senate Committees on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and Finance and Appropriations no later than November 1, 2024. Such report shall be submitted as a report document as provided in the procedures of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems for the processing of legislative documents and reports and shall be posted on the General Assembly’s website.

Status: The bill was passed by the House of Delegates on February 13 by a vote of 56 “yeas” to 43 “nays.” The Senate passed the bill on February 23 by a vote of 39 “yeas” to 1 “nay.” Its companion bill, SB 411, was passed unanimously by the Senate on February 8 and is now with the House Committee on Appropriations.

What it would do: This bill would create a task force for the purpose of identifying deficiencies in publicly funded animal testing facilities and submitting recommendations on making available to the public information pertaining to instances of noncompliance with federal animal welfare regulations as well as the care, use, and numbers of animals used in experiments.

Why you should support it: In the last few years, kind people like you helped get important initiatives passed, including historic legal protections for dogs and cats bred and sold for experiments as well as legislation that requires publicly funded animal testing facilities in Virginia to publicly post their U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports and alert institutional leadership to any critical violations of the federal Animal Welfare ActThis year, legislators are considering a bill to assess deficiencies and make recommendations about transparency at publicly funded facilities that still use animals in experiments.

The most recent available data reveal the following:

  • In 2022, seven of the state’s public universities—Virginia Tech (VT), the University of Virginia (UVA), Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Old Dominion University (ODU), Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), George Mason University (GMU), and James Madison University (JMU)—collectively received more than $139 million for research and development from the Commonwealth and $907,734,000 from the federal government for research and development.
  • From 2014 to 2023, those seven universities were found to be in violation of and/or self-reported violations of federal animal welfare regulations, guidelines, and/or policies 91 times. Their violations include allowing animals to die of starvation and dehydration and depriving animals of veterinary care. In one case (at EVMS), pregnant baboons were subjected to multiple major survival surgeries (caesarean sections) without legally required approval.
  • According to the universities’ own submissions to various agencies in 2022, the approximate number of animals held at just five of those schools (VT, UVA, VCU, ODU, and EVMS) was 289,000, including dogs, nonhuman primates, rabbits, pigs, sheep, birds, chinchillas, rats, and mice—and some of the facilities counted only cages of animals, not the animals confined to them, so the number is likely much higher.

To safeguard public trust, the total number of animals kept and used in experiments and the amount of funding used to experiment on animals should be matters of public record.

HB 1354

Patron: Del. Marty Martinez (D-29)

Summary: It is unlawful for any person engaged in the practice of veterinary medicine to perform a declawing procedure on a cat, except such person may perform such a procedure if it is necessary for a therapeutic purpose.

Status: The bill was passed by the House of Delegates on February 13 by a vote of 54 “yeas” to 44 “nays.” It was reported to the full Senate by the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee on February 27 by a vote of 12 “ayes” to two “nays.” Please contact your state senator here to urge them to vote YES on the bill!

What it would do: This bill would ban the declawing of cats unless deemed medically necessary in Virginia.

Why you should support it: Declawing is an invasive and terribly painful surgery that involves 10 individual amputations—not just of the cats’ nails but of the last digit of each toe as well. Declawing results in a gradual weakening of cats’ legs, shoulders, and back muscles. Because of impaired balance caused by the procedure, declawed cats must relearn how to walk, much as a human would after losing their toes. After the surgery, the nails can grow back inside the paw, causing extreme pain unbeknownst to the cat’s guardian.

Declawing has already been outlawed in several U.S. cities and states. Nearly two dozen countries—including Australia, England, and Japan—have also prohibited or severely restricted veterinarians from performing the painful, permanently crippling, and mutilating procedure.

HB 62

Patron: Del. Ellen H. Campbell (R-36)

Summary as introduced: Animal Cruelty Conviction List established. Requires the Superintendent of State Police to establish no later than January 1, 2027, and to maintain the Animal Cruelty Conviction List and to make the List available to the public on the website of the Department of State Police. The bill specifies that the List include the names of persons convicted of certain felony animal cruelty offenses on or after July 1, 2024. The bill requires persons convicted of any such offense to pay a fee of $50 per conviction to fund the maintenance of the List. The bill also requires the Department to remove a person’s name and information from the List 15 years after its listing if he has no additional felony conviction of any such offense.

Status: The bill was passed by the House of Delegates on February 12 by a vote of 74 “yeas” to 26 “nays.” It will now head to the Senate. We’ll be in touch with more information on contacting your senator soon!

What it would do: This bill would create a public list of people who have been convicted of felony cruelty to animals.

Why you should support it: Keeping track of animal abusers is vital to preventing animals from being harmed in the future. This bill would help animal shelters and adoption groups avoid adopting out an animal to someone who has been convicted of abusing one and would allow members of the public to be aware of any abusers in their area.

Animal abuse isn’t just the result of a minor personality flaw in the abuser—it’s a symptom of a deep mental disturbance. Animal abusers frequently attempt to obtain more animals after being convicted of criminal abuse, which they should never be allowed to do.

Additionally, violent acts toward animals have long been recognized as indicators of a dangerous psychopathy that does not confine itself to animal abuse. The FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appear in the agency’s computer records of serial rapists and murderers. The standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders. A study conducted by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA found that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans.

This list, if diligently updated and checked, would help keep animals out of the hands of those who would harm them.

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