The state Senate will vote later this week on a bill to regulate the possession of exotic animals.
West Virginia is one of just eight states that does not regulate possession of non-domestic animals.
While lawmakers had been considering regulations for years, the widely publicized incidents that followed the release of dozens of wild animals from a refuge in Zanesville, Ohio, last year refocused attention to the subject.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that gives the state Division of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture authority to regulate the animals in the state.
Should the bill be signed into law, exotic animal owners would have to obtain a permit and buy insurance to cover the animals by July 1. Anyone who doesn't could be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined up to $2,000 per animal.
Those convicted of intentionally releasing the animals in public could be convicted and sent to prison for 1 to 3 years and fined up to $5,000.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said the regulations were a reasonable step.
"The vast majority of the states regulate exotic animals in some way," he said. "With what you've seen happen in other states, the time for us to do it is now."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney offered some praise for members of both parties in the Legislature Monday.