Tag Archives: legislature

Emergency bill filed in Maryland to reverse appeals court ruling

Last year a bill that would reverse the Maryland appeals court ruling that “pure breed pit bulls” are inherently dangerous failed to pass at the last-minute amidst disagreement over what the standard of liability for dog owners should be in Maryland.

The ruling in the case of  Tracey v Solesky stems from a dog attack in which a young child was seriously injured by a dog belonging to a renter.  A protracted legal battle ensued and eventually made it to the highest appeals court in Maryland.  A 4-3 ruling by the court declared that both pure breed and mixed “pit bulls” were inherently dangerous and landlords were automatically liable for damages caused by a tenants “pit bull.”  However, on motion for reconsideration, the ruling was changed to only “pure breed pit bulls,” which was undefined by the court. The ruling has had far-reaching consequences for owners of muscular, short-haired dogs.  Shelters reported increased in-take, and landlords began to threaten eviction.

Legislators had vowed to address the issue in the 2014 legislative session when their attempts in 2012 and 2013 failed.

To be clear, these attempts did not fail because of opposition to addressing the breed based language of the ruling nor did they fail because of any opposition to addressing the liability imposed on third parties by the court of appeals ruling.  They failed because of differing opinions on what if anything should be done with the standard of liability for dog owners, should it revert back to the common law before the ruling, become strict liability or meet in the middle.

HB73, Personal Injury or Death Caused by Dog – Rebuttable Presumption, has been filed as emergency bill and is sponsored by Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Luiz Simmons.   As an emergency bill, if passed through the full legislative process, the bill would go into effect immediately upon passage.

Because of the repeated stalemates between the House and the Senate on what the standard of liability for dog owners should be, HB 73 has been drafted as a compromise between the two sides of the issue.  The bill raises the standard of liability from the former common law, what is commonly referred to as a “one free bite rule,” but stops short of strict liability, giving dog owners the ability to defend any allegations that the dog is dangerous by creating a rebuttable presumption.  Briefly, this means that in the case of a dog related incident a court would assume that the owner knew the dog was dangerous but the owner has the opportunity to prove that they had no prior knowledge of a dogs dangerous or vicious propensities.

HB 73 is set to be heard by the House Judiciary committee on January 23rd at 1pm.

Local groups are urging those who live in the districts of the members of the House Judiciary Committee to reach out as a constituent and ask them to support this compromise bill.  

The committee members district information is below.  If you live in one of these districts contact the appropriate legislator to politely but urgently let them know that Maryland needs a solution. Other Maryland residents are also encouraged to call or write their legislators to urge them to support this bill.

You can find your Representative on the state’s website by clicking the “Who Represents Me?” link on the top right of the column of Representatives.  Legislators on the House Judiciary Committee are listed below alphabetically by name, followed by their county and district number.  Contact information is available by clicking on the name.

Anderson, Curt– Baltimore City, 43
Arora, Sam– Montgomery, 19
Carter, Jill P.-Baltimore City, 41
Clippinger, Luke-Baltimore City, 46
Cluster, John W. E., Jr.-Baltimore, 8
Dumais, Kathleen M. (Vice Chair)-Montgomery, 15
Conaway, Frank M., Jr.-Wicomico and Worcester, 40
Glass, Glen-Hartford and Cecil, 34a
Hough, Michael J.-Frederick and Washington, 3b
Kelly, Kevin-Allegany, 1b
Lee, Susan C.-Montgomery, 16
McComas, Susan K.-Harford, 35b
McDermott, Michael A.-Wicomico and Worcester, 38b
Parrott, Neil-Washington, 2b
Rosenberg, Samuel I.-Baltimore City, 41
Simmons, Luiz R. S. -Montgomery, 17
Smigiel, Michael D., Sr.-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil, and Caroline, 36
Swain, Darren M.-Prince George’s, 24
Valderrama, Kriselda-Prince George’s, 26
Valentino-Smith, Geraldine-Prince George’s, 23a
Vallario, Joseph F., Jr. (Chair)-Prince George’s and Calvert, 27a
Waldstreicher, Jeff-Montgomery, 18

Thank you Pauline and Tami for the information on HB 73.

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Washington legislator pre-files bill, HB2117, to prevent breed discriminatory laws on state level

A bill has been pre-filed in Washington state that would prevent municipalities from enacting breed discriminatory laws.

The bill, House Bill 2117, was pre-filed for introduction on December 10th, 2013 by  Sherry Appleton.

The bill is to amend portions of the state’s dangerous dog statutes, in order to prevent municipalities from being able to enact breed discriminatory laws on the local level.

The introduction to the bill reads as follows:

(1)A number of local jurisdictions have enacted ordinances prohibiting or placing additional restrictions on specific breeds of dogs. While the legislature recognizes that local jurisdictions have a valid public safety interest in protecting citizens from dog attacks, the legislature finds that a dog’s breed is not inherently indicative of whether or not the dog is dangerous and that the criteria for determining whether or not a dog is dangerous or potentially dangerous should be focused on the dog’s behavior.
(2) The legislature further finds that breed-specific ordinances fail to address any of the factors that cause dogs to become aggressive and place an undue hardship on responsible dog owners who provide proper socialization and training. The legislature intends to redirect the focus away from particular breeds and to instead encourage local jurisdictions to employ more effective and data-driven prevention models to control dangerous dogs and enhance public safety.

It is not clear at this time how the issues of home rule or grandfather clauses will be addressed.

In 2013 there were 3 states that passed bills that prohibit breed discriminatory laws.  These laws passed with overwhelming support from legislators and received overwhelming support from residents of those states.

It is well documented that a multi-faceted community based approach to dangerous dogs is far more effective than breed discriminatory laws.  These types of laws protect the property rights of responsible owners and require that the issue of dangerous dogs be looked at comprehensively.

Washington state residents:  Please reach out to your Senators and Representatives and respectfully ask them to support this bill.  It is important for residents to be involved in the legislative process and voice their support of such bills.  Legislators cannot act on their constituents interests if they are not expressed.

You can find your legislator via the states website here: http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

Best Friends alerts for Maryland and Connecticut

Best Friends Animal Society has issued the following alerts:

Maryland: A bill has been introduced that would prevent insurance companies from discriminating against both home owners and renters based on the breed of their dog. Under this bill an insurance company would be prohibited from refusing to renew or refuse a policy based solely on the breed of the applicants dog. It would also prohibit insurance companies from refusing liability coverage for damages cause by the dog of the insured.

Maryland residents, please reach out to your representatives via the Best Friends action alert form. Let them know you want them to support SB296.  This bill would not only protect dog owners but it also protects victims of dog bites from all breeds by making sure the insurance company must take care of their expenses. This would be a great step forward for any community but especially for Maryland after the impact of Tracey v. Solesky.

A hearing has been scheduled for February 5th which is the same date as the hearing for SB 160 the Senate bill to address Tracey v. Solesky. Reach out and let your voice be heard.

Connecticut: A bill has been introduced that would allow communities to institute dangerous dog laws as long as they are not breed specific. The passage of this bill would be a great step forward for all the people of Connecticut, dog owners and non-dog owners alike.

HB 5975 has been referred to the Joint Committee on Planning and Development.

Best Friends has set up another easy to use contact form for Connecticut residents to express support for HB 5975.

Connecticut residents, please reach out and tell your representatives that you want them to support this bill.  More states recognizing the need to outlaw breed specific legislation but the voice of the people is needed to confirm they are doing the right thing.

Best Friends alert for New Mexico

A bill has been introduced by State Representative Yvette Herrel that would prohibit breed specific legislation in the state of New Mexico. House Bill 63 would create a state law prohibiting any municipalities, including those that are home rule, from enacting breed specific legislation.  HB63 was introduced on January 11, 2013 and has been assigned to the House Health, Government and Indian Affairs Committee.

This bill needs our support.

NEW MEXICO RESIDENTS, please reach out to your respective state legislators and ask them to support HB63.  Let them know that laws that target dogs based on their appearance rather than their behavior creates communities that are more vulnerable to dangerous dogs, not less.  The passage of HB 63 would mean cities and counties, in drafting animal control ordinances, would have to tackle the root cause of dangerous dogs, irresponsible and reckless dog owners, rather than pass a blanket law that regulates all members of specific breeds.

You can find your representatives here or use the simple contact form Best Friends has set up.

Please also send a note to Representative Herrell to thank her for introducing this common sense bill that would prohibit the passage of breed discriminatory ordinances in the state of New Mexico.

Representative Yvette Herrell
P.O. Box 4338
Alamogordo, NM 88311
yherrell@yahoo.com

HB63 can be tracked here.

Maryland: Court partially reverses breed-discriminatory decision

The Maryland Court of Appeals has partially reversed their decision in Tracey v Solesky. Whereas the original decision applied strict liability to owners of “pit bulls” and “crossbreed pit bulls” and their landlords, the reversal removes reference to crossbreed and mixed breed pit bulls. However, it leaves intact strict liability for owners and landlords of “pit bulls”—and the term “pit bull” remains undefined by the court.

The court’s reasoning is that the Tracey v Solesky case only involved dogs referred to as “pit bull,” “pit bull dog,” or “pit bull terrier.” The dogs were never referred to as mixes or crossbreeds, and the court can’t issue a decision that involves something that was not the subject of the original case; therefore, the court can only issue a decision about “pit bulls.”

Unfortunately, the decision as it stands still does not define “pit bull,” so it is impossible to know exactly which breeds are included in this ruling. Also, the court did not explain how a non-crossbred (i.e. purebred) “pit bull” could be proven to exist.

The court narrowed the application of the decision to a dog that is called a “pit bull” or “pit bull terrier.” The court’s designation of strict liability therefore only applies to those owners who consistently refer to their dog, or allow others to refer to their dog, as a “pit bull,” “pit bull dog,” or “pit bull terrier”—but the ruling does not apply to owners who call their dog a “mix” or a “cross.” Following the same reasoning that the court used to narrow their decision, the case did not involve, nor did the court name, any specific breed (only a non-breed, “pit bull”); therefore, strict liability might not apply to owners of purebred dogs who avoid shorthand breed references and always use a full breed name to refer to their dog (ergo, their dog is some official breed, not just a “pit bull”).**

**Mind you, I am NOT a lawyer, so don’t take this as legal advice. Rather, you can see how the court’s partial-reversal hasn’t cleared anything up, but instead has left us with an even more confusing mess.

HSUS Maryland has created a very helpful info sheet for Maryland renters with dogs: HSUS Info for Renters and Dog Owners

PBLN had a good discussion about the ruling at the beginning of their 8/21/12 radio show: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pit-bulletin-legal-news/2012/08/22/austin-no-kill-bsl-dbo-brent-toellner-ryan-clinton-1

I’m sure other organizations will have good discussion of the court’s revised decision and its possible effects over the next few days.

We will be interested to see how the Maryland legislature addresses this mess during the next legislative session, which will begin in January.

You can read the court’s Motion for Reconsideration decision here: http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/53a11re.pdf

Court partly backs off pit bull ruling

Judge admits error in applying decision to cross-bred dogs

By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun
12:08 p.m. EDT, August 21, 2012

Maryland’s highest court on Tuesday partly backed off its widely criticized April decision that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, admitting that it went too far when it applied its ruling to cross-bred dogs.[…]

In a decision written by Judge Alan M. Wilner, the court stood by its finding about purebred pit bulls but canceled its reference to cross-breds.

Wilner, a retired judge who sat with the court on the original case, wrote that having re-read the briefs and the dissent in the case, he now believes the decision to extend the ruling to cross-bred pit bulls was “both gratuitous and erroneous.” […]

Wilner said nothing in the court record showed that Tracey had ever contended the animal was anything other than a pit bull terrier. […]

Full article retrieved 8/21/12 from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-pit-bull-decision-20120821,0,4806033.story

Maryland: Special session ends, dog bite bill fails to pass

The Maryland Senate and House each voted overwhelmingly for their own version of the “dog bite” bill. Both versions would have reversed the breed-discriminatory Solesky court decision.

Unfortunately, they could not agree with each other over the final version. The special session ended with the House and Senate at an impasse.

Part of the problem lies in the extremely short time frame that is typical of special sessions. Although legislators overwhelmingly agreed that the court decision was wrong and needed to be reversed, they had very little time to consider their options or work out differences of opinion.

The legislature will undoubtedly take up this issue again during the regular legislative session, which begins in January 2013. Hopefully they will be able to come to agreement at that time, and get a meaningful bill passed.

In the meantime, the Court of Appeals decision in Solesky, which imposes strict liability on “pit bull” owners and landlords, is NOT yet in effect. The court decision is on hold following a Motion for Reconsideration.

You can read more about the Maryland special session outcome here:
Baltimore Sun coverage: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-pit-bull-bill-tuesday-20120814,0,4170156.story
WBAL coverage: http://www.wbal.com/article/93006/2/template-story/House-Passes-Extended-Gambling-Dog-Bill-Wont-Pass

Miami-Dade County, FL: Breed ban remains in place after public vote

Miami-Dade County’s longstanding breed ban will remain in place for now. Voters in the August 14 county primaries voted 37% to 63% to keep the ban.

Although at first glance it seems like a disappointing outcome, there’s reason to have hope that the ban will eventually be repealed. To come away with a more positive outlook, we’d like to share with you a brief history of this monumental and unprecedented repeal effort so you can understand where it all began—and where it can go in the future.

The Law

For 23 years, Miami-Dade County has banned “pit bulls” (American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and any dog that looks like one).

Florida state law prohibits municipalities from passing or enforcing BSL. However, the state law grandfathers in (allows) ordinances that were in place prior to October 1, 1990. The state law specifically makes an exception for Miami-Dade’s breed ban.

2012 Legislative Session

Early in the 2012 Florida legislative session, Representative Carlos Trujillo and Senator Jim Norman filed HB 997 / SB 1322. These bills would have deleted the grandfather clause from state law, removing the special exemption for Miami-Dade and forcing the county to repeal its breed ban.

The bills moved smoothly through the legislative process, clearing several committees, and looked like good candidates for passage.

Miami-Dade County commissioners, most of whom who wanted to keep the breed ban, were very concerned. The commissioners went to the legislature and promised to put the breed ban to a public vote if Trujillo put the brakes on the bill. The bills suddenly lost legislator support and became stalled at various stages.

Public Vote

StopBSL and many other groups were alarmed at the prospect of a public vote on the breed ban. We expected a public vote would not result in repeal (and commissioners doubtless felt the same way) because

  • The public tends to vote with emotions and stereotype, not logic.
  • Miami-Dade residents have not encountered a legally-owned “pit bull” in 23 years. Much of their experience with “pit bulls” is negative.
  • Minority groups—in this case, “pit bull” owners—are at a disadvantage in “majority rules” votes, especially when there is no legal opportunity to dispel stereotypes about the minority group.
  • The people who are most affected by the law—”pit bull” owners—cannot legally live in the county, are not residents, and therefore cannot vote on the fate of the law.
  • County officials and the local news media have strong influence and are supportive of the ban.
  • We predicted the poll question would be biased and confusing.
  • Advocates for repeal had a mere 5 months to overcome all of these embedded and intractable issues.

Indeed, we saw many of these factors come into play over the next several months and throughout the voting period.

Advocates for repeal faced a monumental challenge: to build a coalition, acquire resources, and change public opinion almost overnight. The Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation took up the challenge with everything they had.

The Future

Considering the dire situation, we at StopBSL believe that the public vote results were amazing. Over 80,000 people voted to repeal Miami’s breed ban—one in three voters. MCABSL was also able to raise awareness in the county, unite repeal supporters, and get support from expert groups like the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association.

All this in five months. By contrast, major anti-BSL victories that we celebrated this year in Ohio and Massachusetts took 4+ years (and countless do-overs) to achieve.

Imagine if even a small fraction of those 80,000 people who voted for repeal were to show up at the next Miami-Dade County commissioner meeting. Imagine if those 80,000 Miami-Dade residents—along with all their supporters throughout Florida—contacted their state reps, protested the county’s discriminatory law, asked legislators to refile a bill like HB 997 / SB 1322.

Whether it’s another public vote, another legislative effort to remove Miami-Dade’s grandfather clause, or an effort to vote out pro-ban county commissioners—there are many possibilities to repeal the ban in the future.

However, it can’t be done without YOU. If you live in Florida, especially in or near Miami-Dade, you are a crucial piece of the effort. Please stay united and resolved in your efforts to repeal the breed ban.

Thank You

Many, many thanks to the volunteers and groups, especially MCABSL, who were down in the trenches giving their all for this repeal effort. You accomplished an amazing feat despite the odds, and the support you gained over the last few months will certainly propel you to victory in the future.