Sometimes business owners do not know if an animal brought into a store is a service animal doing work for someone with a disability or just a pet someone without a disability tries to pass off as a service animal. On February 8, a bill passed the House unanimously that would punish anyone trying to pass off a fake service animal as a real one with a $500 ticket. The Senate has to look at it next. While on its face this bill may sound helpful to people with legitimate service animals, it is actually harmful.

Disability Rights Washington opposes HB 2822 because it punishes people with disabilities as a response to business owners’ misunderstandings and the lies of nondisabled people using fake service animals.

Some think the fines will help because fake service animals can be violent or misbehave. Fines would not address this. The fines are not based on behavior. Moreover, bad behavior can be addressed under existing law. In fact, a fake or real service animal can be kicked out of a store for attacking others or urinating in the middle of an aisle, just as the store could legally kick out a person who does these things regardless of whether that person has a disability. The law does not need to be changed to address this problem, business owners just need to use the existing law.

If the HB 2822 is passed, nothing about this problem will change. If a dog is misbehaving and it is a service animal, it cannot be ticketed. If a fake service animal is not misbehaving, there would be no way to know it needed to be ticketed. Unless, of course, the hope is already overtaxed police will take time out of their day to approach people at random or people they assume aren’t disabled, quiz them about their animals, and ticket people when they are not satisfied with the answers or suspect the person is lying.

The fine, therefore, encourages the constant harassment of people with legitimate service animals in every business they enter because each one could call the police who could issue a citation. If cited, each citation will need to be fought in court and the cycle will continue each day as the person goes to more places in the community.

“I am unsettled at the implication of encouraging cops to question disabled people and then fine them if they don’t see a disability,” comments disability justice advocate Shaun Bickley. The same concern has been echoed online by the disability community, and Disability Rights Washington’s Disability Advisory Council unanimously voiced its opposition to HB 2822 during its meeting last week.

There are many attacks on accessibility and this is one of a couple bills making the rounds nationally to chill people with disabilities exercising their rights in different ways. If this bill passes, the woman in a recent KOMO News article with the legitimate service animal will now not just get the side eye from people or questioned by a store employee, she will get $500 ticket from police and then have to explain herself to a judge. Additionally, the business owner in the KOMO News piece who was uncomfortable about possibly offending someone with a legitimate service animal or provoking a person with a fake service animal will now have the added tool of calling the police to issue a ticket. This is not a practical solution for the business owner.

Business owners and service animal owners alike should know their rights, which is why Disability Rights Washington, in collaboration with the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs and the Washington Traumatic Brain Injury Strategic Partnership Advisory Council, produced videos to educated people on their rights.

Service & Companion Animal Owners – Know Your Rights!

A Business Owners’ Guide to Service & Companion Animals

“Our state is actually suggesting our local police departments be at the beck and call of business owners to harass people claiming to have service animals, but there is still no law enforcement to stop the violation of the rights of people with disabilities trying to get through life while having their well established rights violated everyday by savvy, well-resourced business owners,” said David Carlson, Advocacy Director of Disability Rights Washington.

Education is the key to both helping business owners understand their existing rights and shaming despicable people who lie about their animals. The solution is not to embolden those who want to expand the existing harassment of people with legitimate service animals.

Disability Rights Washington is in opposition of this bill and will be in opposition to any others like it. The Senate Law and Justice Committee will consider the bill during its public hearing on February 15 at 10:00 AM. Disability Rights Washington encourages its constituents to contact Senate Law & Justice Committee members, or attend the upcoming committee hearing to voice their concerns on this bill.