Proposal would make it illegal to ‘misrepresent’ a service animal
PHOENIX – State lawmakers are hoping to keep Fido and FiFi out of grocery stores, restaurants and airports if they have no legal right to be there.
On a party-line vote Thursday, the Senate approved HB 2588. It would make it illegal for someone to “fraudulently misrepresent’’ a pet as a legitimate “service animal.’’ Violators would be subject to fines of up to $250.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the problem has gotten out of control.
“Right now it is perfectly legal to buy a $20 vest on Amazon.com, put it on your pet and take it into a store,’’ he told colleagues.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, acknowledged that both state and federal law preclude business owners from demanding that those who claim their dogs are service animals detail their disabilities. But he said that does not leave them without remedies when there are problems.
He said store owners can ask an owner to remove an animal – even a service dog – if the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. The same is true if the animal is out of control, not housebroken or “fundamentally alters the nature of the public place or the goods, services or activities provided.’’
“So basically, if you’ve got a poorly behaved animal, a service animal or somebody claiming for it to be a service animal, the owner has the full authority to kick that animal out of the premises,’’ Farley said. “There is no need to involve law enforcement.’’
In fact, Farley noted, even if a business owner called police they can’t do anything to remove the animal. Instead, it would simply require the owner to appear in court.
Kavanagh, however, said focusing on whether an animal is well behaved – or even housebroken – misses the point of the problem.
“I don’t want some dog being wheeled around a supermarket in the same cart I’ll put my food in later to be able to stay just because he’s not misbehaving,’’ he said.
Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, countered that there already are ways for business owners to approach those with animals and separate out the legitimate service dogs from the household pets – all without violating federal and state laws about asking people about their disabilities.
She said store owners are allowed to ask if the animal really is a service animal. And they also can question a handler exactly what task the animal is trained to perform.
“And if it is not a legitimate service animal, the people bringing the animal in are not going to be able to answer the questions accurately and appropriately,’’ Hobbs said. “And the proprietor can ask them to leave at that point.’’
Kavanagh, however, said it shouldn’t get that far.
“I’m trying to prevent the situation where store owners have to begin interrogating people with service animals, especially people with legitimate service animals,’’ he said. “The way to stop this is to deter the phony people from coming in in the first place.’’