By Bob Katzen

A bill that would make it a crime for anyone to misrepresent that a dog or other animal is a service animal was heard by the Judiciary Committee. First-time offenders would be required to perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities and/or up to a $500 fine. Subsequent offenses would be punishable by 60 hours of community service and/or up to a $1,000 fine.

“The bill seeks to protect service dogs and their handlers from people who are abusing the rights afforded to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said sponsor Rep. Kim Ferguson (R-Holden). “Whether intentional or not, people who try to pass their pets off as service dogs, in order to bring them into businesses, public places, etc. are breaking the law and are taking advantage of access rights afforded to the individuals who need working service dogs and the support they provide day to day.”

“I think we can agree that we have seen many pets in stores, restaurants [and] places of business … riding in shopping carts, dressed up in clothing or being a nuisance— simply because they are pets, not highly trained service dogs,” continued Ferguson. “At times, it is also impacting members of the general public who want to be in a place of business—a restaurant, etc.—without someone’s pet interfering unnecessarily—eating off plates, sniffing at their food, barking or snarling. This has become an increasing problem throughout the country, so much so that 27 other states have had to pass laws such as this.”

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