Montana Service Dog Misrepresentation Bill Receives Pushback
by Andy Jones
March 24, 2017
Disability Rights Montana is opposing a bill introduced into the state house that makes it a crime to fraudulently misrepresent a service dog.
House Bill 364, heard by the state’s House Human Services Committee on February 13, would punish such actions as a misdemeanor, punishable up to $500 for each violation.
Disability Rights Montana contends that the bill is overly broad and would encourage unnecessary conflict between people in need of service animals and owners of business and other places of public accomodation.
The ADA allows owners to ask people with disabilities whether their service animals are, in fact, service animals, as well as what tasks they are trained to perform. However, the ADA prevents them from requiring people with disabilities from preventing documentary proof of their animal’s status, in part because there is no nationally recognized organization for certifying service animals.
“Inevitably, this will encourage business owners and law enforcement to make inquiries of people with service animals about the legitimacy of that animal..,” Disability Rights Montana said in a news release. “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.”
A similar bill in Wyoming, House Bill 114, passed out of the state’s Senate Travel Committee on February 16.
Similar legislation already exists in Florida, passed in 2015, and in Colorado, which passed last legislative session.
Disability Rights Washington and the Disability Rights Montana are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Montana, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.