Sen. Dick Dever doesn't like to infringe on people's freedoms, but when it comes to venomous snakes, he makes an exception.
"We hate to have to pass legislation to infringe on people's rights and civil liberties, but sometimes we have to protect people from themselves," Dever said.
Dever, a Bismarck Republican, testified in favor of House Bill 1326, which would make it illegal to own or possess venomous snakes, spiders and other reptiles.
The bill was heard in front of the House Political Subdivisions Committee on Thursday.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, in response to Bismarck police finding four deadly snakes in an apartment last year.
Sitte said North Dakota law prohibits having skunks, raccoons and wolves, but not venomous snakes. The proposed law would cover cities that don't have ordinances against venomous snakes, as well as rural areas.
Bismarck does have an ordinance against possessing venomous snakes.
In July, Bismarck police found four poisonous snakes - an East African green mamba, a death adder, an albino monocle cobra and a yellow-bellied racer - in a Bismarck apartment.
Andrew Greff and Doug Feist were charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment for having the snakes.
Greff was sentenced to one year with all but six months suspended for having the snakes, and Feist is scheduled to go to trial on the reckless endangerment charge April 26.
Sitte said deadly snakes can easily be purchased over the Internet.
"Just do a Google search and immediately you will find so many ways to purchase them," Sitte said. "It was absolutely shocking to me."
Terry Lincoln, director of the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck, testified about how dangerous the four snakes confiscated in Bismarck were.
Lincoln said the Reptile Gardens near Rapid City, S.D., is the closest place for anti-venom for the green mamba's bite. Lincoln said if the antivenom were placed on an F-16 fighter plane and brought to Bismarck, it probably wouldn't arrive in time to save someone who had been bitten.
Lincoln doesn't claim to be an expert on deadly snakes, but he knows enough to prevent being bitten by one.
"I know enough to stay away from them and not play with them," Lincoln said.
Rep. Mary Ekstrom, D-Grand Forks, was in support of the bill, but she had some concern that it would prohibit people from engaging in rattlesnake roundups, in which rattlesnakes are caught and either eaten or later released.
"It's a weird sport, but they do it," Ekstrom said.
Sitte said officials would likely still allow rattlesnake roundups in parts of the state where the snakes are found.
The bill will make it a Class B misdemeanor to possess venomous snakes, but it allows for permits if the deadly critters are kept for educational purposes.
(Reach Reporter Tom Rafferty at 223-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org)