Service Animals Bill Unanimously Passes in Florida Today; To Become Law on July 1, 2015
O wners of dogs may face a penalty — which could include time in jail — for passing off their pet as a service dog in the state of Florida on or after Wednesday, July 1, 2015.
As of 10:40 this morning, Bill CS/HB 71 completed what appears to be its final hurdle towards becoming a law, as all 112 members of the Florida House of Representatives who were present unanimously voted for the bill, which is worded as follows:
Service Animals: Requires public accommodation to permit use of service animal by individual with disability; provides conditions for public accommodation to exclude or remove service animal; revises penalties for certain persons or entities who interfere with use of service animal; provides penalty for knowing & willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of service animal.
I first reported about this bill two days ago; but I find the wording somewhat nebulous, though: how does this affect people who pass off their pets as “emotional support” animals? How does one prove “knowing & willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of service animal”?
That is the part of the bill about which I am unsure. Service animals are clearly defined by the law and provide specific qualifications as to the veracity of circumstances to substantiate a claim by the owner of an animal to earn that designation — and only dogs and certain miniature horses may currently qualify to be official service animals — so anyone who falsely claims that their pet is a service animal is subject to having a penalty imposed on him or her; and what exactly is that penalty is still unknown at this time…
…but what about pet owners who seek to — dare I say it — steal from the airlines by declaring their pets as “emotional support” animals and not have to pay a fee to transport them? What about other situations where a pet owner attempts to convince a proprietor of a commercial establishment that Fluffy the Wonder Cat is an “emotional support” animal? Can management of that establishment exercise the right to refuse service or entry to that person?
The answer is yes, in my opinion. The person who passes off a pet as an “emotional support” animal is currently protected by the Air Carrier Access Act, which was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986 and pertains only to commercial airlines, so — as ridiculous as this may sound — even a pig can be flown free of charge aboard an airplane as long as it accompanies its owner.
The way I interpret the bill which unanimously passed earlier today in Florida is that there is no danger of overlap with the federal laws of the United States currently in place for both owners of service animals and owners of “emotional support” animals; but the question is what effects could arise as a result? Will similar laws be passed in other states in the United States?
More importantly, could it form the foundation of a basis for eventually challenging the Air Carrier Access Act as it is currently worded and result in a change in that act where people whose pets cannot qualify as service animals still be legitimately designated as emotional support animals — but without the fraud committed by pet owners such as this anonymous person, who recently confessed to doing just that?
Only time will tell — but in the meantime, what are your thoughts?