This was a vote on passage of H.R. 80, the Captive Primate Safety Act, which prohibited the importation, export, transportation, sale, receipt, acquisition or purchase of primates in interstate or foreign commerce. It amended legislation knows as the Lacey Act Amendments of 198l, which had previously applied those restrictions to a number of other wild animals. This bill expanded the coverage of the Lacey Act to certain nonhuman primates, including monkeys and chimpanzees.
Del. Bordallo (D-Guam), who led the support for the measure, referred to a recent widely-publicized incident in which a chimpanzee attacked a woman and inflicted very serious injuries, and said that the incident “ reminds us all too clearly that (primates) are wild animals and that they can become extremely dangerous.” Del. Bordallo then pointed to an estimate by The Humane Society of the United States that “about 15,000 monkeys and other primates are in private hands in the United States, and in recent years, there have been dozens of incidents of nonhuman primates injuring people.”
Rep. Bishop (R-UT) led the opposition to the measure. His opposition was based on the argument that the “issue clearly falls under the jurisdiction of State fish and wildlife agencies.” He claimed that “40 states already prohibit ownership of monkeys or require a license or permit in order to own a monkey, . . . (and) this is not within the realm of where national government needs to spend its time.” He went on to say “. . . it is amazing, at a time when we are suffering economic pain - - we are again debating an issue that . . . addresses the ownership of monkeys.”
Bishop also claimed that the legislation was not actually addressing a serious problem because “(I)n the decade from 1995 to 2005, there were only 132 documented incidences between captive primates and humans. He went on to note that “(T)here is, though, a cost to this legislation. Regardless of the fact that the . . . problem is minimal, the problem could easily be handled on a state-by-state basis, we will still appropriate to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service . . . $4 million to hire additional staff to conduct interstate inspections and investigation to enforce this law. “ Bishop concluded by asking Members “to resist this effort to try to make sure that everything in life is always fair and equal and controlled from these hallowed Halls of Washington . . . .”
Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR), a supporter of the bill responded to Rep. Bishop by saying “(H)ow we treat these animals in our community reflects a lot on our own values and who we are.” In reference to Bishop’s arguments that states should be handling the problem with which the bill dealt, Rep. Blumenauer noted that Congress had not given responsibility to the states for other wild animals when it passed the Lacey Act Amendments.
The legislation passed by a vote of 323-85. Two hundred and forty-seven Democrats and seventy-six Republicans voted “aye”. Ninety-three Republicans and two Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the House approved and sent to the Senate a bill expanding the coverage, to include primates, of federal controls on the interstate transportation and sale of certain animals.