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Sat, Dec. 05

Arizona Senate panel OKs restrictions on service animals, $250 fine for violations

A Senate panel voted Jan. 17 to make it illegal for people to bring their pets into restaurants and grocery stores under claims they are service animals.

SB 1040 would allow a judge to impose a $250 fine on errant owners.

But even Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who crafted the legislation, acknowledged the measure has no real teeth, given the restrictions of what business owners can ask patrons under federal disability laws. He said those who want to break the law are likely to ignore the signs that business owners might erect informing patrons of the restrictions.

In fact, Kavanagh conceded, business owners —and even police — could not actually force someone with a dog to prove that it is a service animal or require its owner to spell out his or her disability.

“The only way you’re going to be found guilty is if you’re dumb enough to admit to a cop it’s not a service animal,’’ he said.

Despite that, the Government Committee approved the measure on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Republicans in the majority, and sent the measure to the Judiciary Committee for another hearing.

Wednesday’s hearing brought out several people who complained about what they saw as unhealthy and dangerous situations.

Jane Conway told lawmakers she has seen people putting dogs into shopping carts at grocery stores. She also related seeing a dog hanging its posterior over a box of lettuce at a farmer’s market. And Gregory Gregston told of his service dog being attacked by untrained animals.

But April Reed, vice president of advocacy for Ability360, said that misses the point that existing law already allows a business owner to remove any animal that is creating a problem, whether it’s a service animal or not.

“We believe that the real issue is not service animals but pets behaving badly,’’ she said.

And Sarah Kader, attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law said she believes the law will result in harassment of owners of service dogs who are being called on to prove that their claims are legitimate.

Kavanagh, however, said nothing in his proposal changes underlying federal and state law which limits the ability of business owners and police to asking only two questions: if the animal is a service animal and what tasks the animal has been trained to perform.

Those laws preclude questions about the individual’s disability. And there is no requirement for anyone to prove that the animal in question is, in fact, trained to perform certain tasks.

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