On Wednesday afternoon I had the privilege of speaking with Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, who recently introduced House Bill 1537 to prohibit ivory trading and sales within the state.
Rep. Dean told me that she learned of the ivory trade fairly recently. "Truly, if I had spoken to you a year and a half ago, I would not have had this issue on my radar at all," she said. Dean credits her brother with giving her a knowledge and passion for saving elephants. "He has been talking about elephants for years and years," she said. "I eventually had to stop and say, 'What are you saying?' 'What am I missing?'"
Drafting an Ivory Law
Once she learned about the ivory trade and its effect on elephants, Rep. Dean got to work. She began the process of writing a bill, having the legislative's research bureau find out more about the trade and connecting with advocacy groups like the Humane Society and Elephants DC.
After gathering more information, Dean found a partner across the aisle to co-sponsor the bill. "Our house is quite divided; the Democrats are very much in the minority," she said, "It has to be partnered with somebody who would have the chance to have the legislation brought up."
Dean connected with Mike Vereb, a Republican and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill would go to be reviewed. Once Vereb was brought on board, the bill began to take shape.
Dean said that because many Republicans are hesitant about passing anti-ivory laws, they had to be sensitive to that. "I tried to be more reasonable to say that protected [items] would be those things that you own, things that are antique and things that are inherited," she explained.
Passing the Bill into Law
Once the bill was drafted, it was assigned to a committee. However, the bill's first assignment was not to the judiciary committee, which Dean suspects was an effort to make the bill die early on. "Mike threw a hissy fit," she laughed, and said that his protests brought to bill to the correct committee.
"I worry that it'll die there," voiced Dean, "but I'm a member of that committee so I have a louder voice there." She hopes that with both their voices, the committee will approve the bill.
"What we're trying to do is get some additional co-sponsorship, then pressure to bring the bill up," explained Dean about their next steps. "The next strategy is you can get the representative leader to bring it up on the floor."
Dean said she hopes the bill will be passed in this legislative session, but it all depends on their ability to get the bill onto the floor for discussion.
"I really feel like, while if we can get this passed it will be a big step forward, making people aware of it is really important. I think a lot of people don't have a clue."
Why PA Needs and Ivory Law
"It's an illegal trade, it's inhumane," Dean declared of the ivory industry. "It's threatening ecosystems and a species and other species related to it."
While Dean said that to her knowledge no ivory trafficking has occurred in Pennsylvania, she believes it's important for the state to enact ivory legislation instead of waiting until ivory sales begin (or are recorded). "I certainly think it would affect commercial traffic," she said. "Very directly, I want to stop the commercial traffic of what's legal right now in Pennsylvania."
Dean said the second reason Pennsylvania needs an ivory law is so that residents know how much of a problem the industry is. "I wonder if they're aware of their connection to this trade," she wondered. "My legislation, if anything, is to bring awareness.
"I wanted to pass it so we become part of the national conversation, part of the global conversation," she explained. "We do have a say and we can stop the madness."
Residents can easily get involved in encouraging ivory legislation. "Constituent contact is very powerful, I think," she said. "I get phone calls and emails every day...with people who have something on their mind."
You could begin to target, in a good way, likely legislators, either because they're in leadership or because they've passed legislation that might be favorable to this or because they're in a committee [related to this]," Dean encouraged. "Make an appointment with them...about what you want to talk about."
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.