It Will Be Too Bad If Clock Runs Out on Bill to Squelch Bogus Service Animals

Friday, April 6, 2018

It doesn’t rank up there with the abuse of overtime by State Police officers, but allowing pretenders to go places they shouldn't with bogus service animals cries out for government action.  Which is why I am hoping House Bill 2277, An Act Relative to the Misrepresentation of a Service Animal, soon receives a favorable report from the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary. 

H.2277 would make it a civil infraction to misrepresent a pet dog as a service dog.  Violators would be subject to a fine of not more than $500 and/or 30 hours of community service for an organization that helps persons with disabilities.  A violation of the law would occur under the following conditions:
ONE, “An individual expressly or impliedly represents that a dog in his or her possession is his or her service dog or a service-dog-in-training for the purpose of obtaining any rights or privileges afforded disabled persons accompanied by service dogs, but unavailable to people and their pets…”

TWO, “Said individual knew or should have known that the dog in question did not meet the definition of a service animal or service-animal-in-training.”
THREE, an intentional misrepresentation occurs when someone takes a non-qualifying dog “into a place of public accommodation where pets are not permitted, and the dog is wearing a cape, vest, special leash, or other form of identification that states or implies that the dog is a service dog entitled to be present, even if the individual makes no affirmative statements (that the dog is a legitimate service animal).”

Rep. Kimberly Ferguson of Holden, the four-term Republican who filed H.2277, enjoys wide legislative support on this issue. Fifty-two members of the House (33% of representatives) and six members of the Senate (15% of senators) have signed on as bill co-sponsors.
Among the good things the bill would do is have the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Business produce: (a) decals for businesses that say service dogs are welcome and misrepresenting a service dog is a violation of law, and (b) brochures “detailing permissible questions a business owner may determine whether a dog is a service dog, proper answers to those questions, and guidelines defining unacceptable behavior.”

If Rep. Ferguson’s bill becomes law, any police officer or animal control officer in the Commonwealth would have the authority to investigate possible violations.  And any service dog owner who refused to answer the permissible questions concerning a possible violation would be presumed to be violating the law.
The Judiciary Committee has until Wednesday, May 2, to report the bill out favorably or unfavorably.  Its third (and final) option is to send it “to study,” which is not as bad as an unfavorable committee report; however, a study order would effectively kill the bill for this legislative session, which runs until July 31.

If, on May 2, Judiciary gives the bill a favorable report, the odds would still be against enacting it, all those co-sponsors notwithstanding, because there will be less than two months left in the session and higher-priority (and often contentious) bills will be eating up more of the precious legislative calendar with each passing day.  It could get passed this session.  But I kind of doubt it.
So we can expect the fakers in our midst, those selfish souls who have no qualms exploiting legal protections for persons with disabilities, to increase in number and grow shamelessly bolder in their exploits. 




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