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Bill imposing fines for bogus service dogs heads to governor’s desk

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    Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs sponsors a “Doggy therapy” station in March 2016 at Tamarind Park where people could stop by to pet dogs, take photos, and share stories of their dogs.

A bill that would fine people fraudulently representing their pets as service dogs was approved unanimously on both floors of the state Legislature today, and now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

Senate Bill 2461, introduced by Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna), would amend existing laws in the books to pose fines — $100 to $250 for the first violation, and $500 or more for subsequent violations.

“It will be hard to enforce, and yes, we know that,” said Ruderman. “This is one of those bills, kind of like littering or jaywalking, it’s not going to be easy to enforce. But it’s going to change people’s behaviors because most people obey the law and don’t want to be shamed by their peers.”

Ruderman said he introduced the bill from the perspective of a retailer, as owner of Island Naturals Market and Deli on the Big Island.

“I want to emphasize, this bill is in support of people with legitimate service dogs,” said Ruderman. “People who bring in untrained animals claiming they’re service dogs cause problems for people with legitimate service dogs.”

While there is no official U.S. registry for service dogs, the alleged perpetrators are going online and ordering fake service dog certificates, vests or ID badges to pass their pets off as service dogs.

The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission testified in opposition of the bill, along with the state Disability and Communication Access Board, which was concerned that such a law might encourage the asking of inappropriate questions. Similarly, the Department of the Attorney General said it would be challenging to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court that an animal is not a service animal, given the limited questions one may ask and the fact that service dogs do not have to be licensed, certified or registered with any authority.

“This is unbelievably great news,” said Jim Kennedy, executive director of Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs, who supported the bill. “We are so grateful they were able to compromise to get the bill to pass, and look forward to it eventually becoming law.”

Kennedy said his organization looks forward to educating the community. Hawaii Fi-Do, he said, is not against businesses being animal friendly or people with disabilities training their own service dogs, but wants to see a reduction in the abuse of ADA access accommodation laws.

Previous attempts to pass a similar law have stalled at the state Legislature.

“We understand and share concerns about the [enforcement] issue, but the real benefit of this is the deterrent effect,” he said. “We think that most people are law abiding. Most people are good people. We need this as a beginning of slowing down this tidal wave of fake service dogs.”

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