Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Our e-newsletter delivers news and updates right to your email inbox.

Please click here to read past editions of our newsletters
Donate to DRM

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to DRM. Each and every dollar donated makes a difference to individuals in Montana with disabilities.

 

HB 364 Would Encourage Scrutiny and Possible Criminal Prosecution of Legitimate Service Animal Owners

On Monday, February 13, 2017, the House Human Services Committee heard, HB 364 "Revise service animal laws." Sponsored by Rep. Denley Loge, this bill attempts to ensure that people who misrepresent their animals as service animals are dissuaded from doing so. This is a reasonable goal, but we are concerned that the state of federal law and the language of this bill would encourage confrontations and investigations of people with disabilities who legitimately use service animals.

Federal law currently does not allow a business owner to require proof that a service animal is a service animal. There are a number of reasons for this, but one significant reason is that there is no generally accepted certification for service animals. Thus, no legitimate user has the ability to show a generally accepted document that proves that a service animal is a service animal. Some are trained by private entities who do it for a living, who may or may not provide their own "certification." Others are trained by their owners to assist them. Thus, many legitimate users of service animals may have no document at all that proves that their animals are service animals, thus have no way to defend themselves against a criminal charge.

This is problematic as HB 364 assumes that there is a clear way to prove that one’s service animal is not "fraudulent." It enacts a misdemeanor penalty for misrepresenting an animal as a service animal. Inevitably, this will encourage business owners and law enforcement to make inquiries of people with service animals about the legitimacy of that animal. This inquiry is not allowed by federal law, which allows business owners only to ask if the animal is a service animal for a disability and what tasks the animal performs. Even so, if the inquiry occurs, many legitimate service animal users will not have documentation to defend themselves.  

We believe this will create unnecessary conflict and confrontation which is not the result that anyone wants. Although we, as a disability rights law firm, have heard stories of frustration about individuals who have misidentified their animals as service animals, our firm has received far more reports of people with legitimate service animals having difficulty using their animals in schools, at work, and in private businesses.

We don’t believe that law enforcement should be injected into these disputes, nor would it be a positive step to apply a criminal penalty. We are especially concerned that individuals that do not have obvious disabilities, such as serious mental illness, will be subjected to greater scrutiny.

House Human Services Committee  
Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell (D), HD 84

Email: Rep.MaryAnn.Dunwell@mt.gov
Phone: 406-461-5358 / 406-449-7340

Rep. Bill Harris (R), HD 37 Email: Rep.Bill.Harris@mt.gov
Phone: 406-429-2091 / 406-366-6775
Rep. Ellie Hill Smit (D), HD 90 Email: elliehillhd94@gmail.com
Phone: 406-218-9608
Rep. Tom Jacobson (D), HD 21 Email: Rep.Tom.Jacobson@mt.gov
Phone: 406-868-9814 / 406-454-5740
Rep. Jessica Karjala (D), HD 48, Vice Chair Email: Rep.Jessica.Karjala@mt.gov
Phone: 406-672-8681
Rep. Kathy Kelker (D), HD 47 Email: Rep.Kathy.Kelker@mt.gov
Phone: 406-652-6716 / 406-698-5610
Rep. Dennis Lenz (R), HD 53, Vice Chair Email: Rep.Dennis.Lenz@mt.gov
Phone: 406-671-7052
Rep. Forrest Mandeville (R), HD 57 Email: Rep.Forrest.Mandeville@mt.gov
Phone: 406-690-1933
Rep. Gordon Pierson (D), HD 78 Email: Rep.Gordon.Pierson@mt.gov
Rep. Matt Reigier (R), HD 4 Email: Rep.Matt.Regier@mt.gov
Phone: 406-212-2725 / 406-253-3293
Rep. Vince Ricci (R), HD 55 Email: Rep. Vince.Ricci@mt.gov
Phone: 406-855-9153 / 406-855-9154
Rep. Walt Sales (R), HD 69 Email: Rep.Walt.Sales@mt.gov
Phone: 406-282-7435
Rep. Barry Usher (R), HD 40 Email: Rep. Barry.Usher@mt.gov
Phone: 406-252-2888
Rep. Kirk Wagoner (R), HD 75, Chair Email: Rep.Kirk.Wagoner@mt.gov
Phone: 406-202-8416
Rep. Tom Welch (R), HD 72 Email: Twelch1213@gmail.com
Phone: 406-683-4811