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
Phone: 406-461-5358 / 406-449-7340
|Rep. Bill Harris (R), HD 37
Phone: 406-429-2091 / 406-366-6775
|Rep. Ellie Hill Smit (D), HD 90
|Rep. Tom Jacobson (D), HD 21
Phone: 406-868-9814 / 406-454-5740
|Rep. Jessica Karjala (D), HD 48, Vice Chair
|Rep. Kathy Kelker (D), HD 47
Phone: 406-652-6716 / 406-698-5610
|Rep. Dennis Lenz (R), HD 53, Vice Chair
|Rep. Forrest Mandeville (R), HD 57
|Rep. Gordon Pierson (D), HD 78
|Rep. Matt Reigier (R), HD 4
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
|Rep. Barry Usher (R), HD 40
||Email: Rep. Barry.Usher@mt.gov
|Rep. Kirk Wagoner (R), HD 75, Chair
|Rep. Tom Welch (R), HD 72