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Legislative Synopsis for 2014

by James B. Reed, DVM and William Erskine, JD

The Maryland Legislature was active in proposing bills that continued to address community concerns with “dangerous dogs.” Since the Solesky decision in the fall of 2012, there has been much debate and attempted compromise to alleviate discrimination against a single breed or breed-type. The existing civil action going into the 2014 legislative sessions favored the belief that all pit bulls are inherently dangerous, which has had a large impact on animal shelters and rescue groups.

Last year’s session ended in a near compromise. This year started with an emergency bill introduced by the Senate (SB 247) and is nearly identical to last year’s bill (SB 160) proposing that evidence that any dog, regardless of type, causes personal injury or death establishes a rebuttable presumption the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. The House also introduced the same bill in hopes of a speedy agreement (HB 73). The near success of this bill last year was be a strong indicator that this bill would have the strongest support.

Alternative bills with lesser liabilities for dog owners had originated from the House (HB 80 and HB 563) with no matching Senate bills, but both received “Unfavorable Report by Judicial Proceedings.”

The MVMA did not formally support any one bill on this issue, but encouraged efforts to eliminate discrimination of any single breed. House Bill 160 and Senate Bill 247 passed their respective sessions and were approved by the Governor in April, 2014.

Related bills were introduced by the House. One bill (HB 422) sought to prohibit a county from enacting a local law and a municipality from adopting an ordinance prohibiting ownership of, or harboring, a dog with a specific heritage or breed. A second bill (HB 371) would have required the owner of a dangerous dog to obtain registration from local animal control within 10 days of committing a dangerous act. A third related bill (HB 523) sought to increase the fine relating to the possession of a dangerous dog from $2,500 to $5,000, with potential imprisonment not to exceed three years. These bills all failed to pass the House.

The insurance companies have also been targeted by legislation in this area. A recently introduced bill from the Senate (SB 286) sought to prohibit insurance companies from refusing to underwrite a risk or denying/cancelling coverage solely because an applicant owns or keeps a specific breed of dog. The bill, however, would to allow additional cost to be imposed in certain criminal cases. This bill received an “Unfavorable Report by Judicial Proceedings and was withdrawn.

The MVMA also considered new areas of legislative activity that directly relate to the practice of veterinary medicine and reviewed two bills with the Board of Examiners which already restricts the practice of veterinary medicine without a license. The house introduced a bill (HB 665) that prohibits a person, other than a licensed veterinarian using anesthesia, from performing specific procedures on dogs and establishing penalties for violation of this act. These procedures would include the cropping of ears and docking of tails by unauthorized individuals. This bill was vetoed because it was deemed duplicative to SB 659 which passed and was approved by the Governor. A second bill in this area (HB 667) prohibited the surgical debarking of a dog or cat yet authorizes a licensed veterinarian to surgically debark under specified circumstances. This bill also passed and was approved by the Governor.

A summary of the 2014 Legislative Session is as follows:

1. HB 80 – Civil Actions – Liability for Personal Injury or Death Caused by Dog
Failed.

The intent of this bill was to establish the liability an owner of a dog running at
large.

2. HB 73/SB247 – Civil Actions – Personal Injury or Death Cause by Dog – Rebuttable Presumption
Passed and was Approved by the Governor.

This bill established that evidence presented in a case against a dog owner that their dog caused the injury or death creates a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that their dog had a vicious or dangerous propensity.

3. HB 371 – Criminal Law – Dangerous Dogs – Registration and Penalties
Failed.

The intent of this bill was to require an owner of a dangerous dog to register the dog with local animal control within 10 days after committing an act which renders it a dangerous dog.

4. HB 422/SB991 – Dogs – Discrimination Based on Breed, Type, or Heritage – Prohibited
Failed.

The intent of this legislation was to prohibit a dog from being determined to be potentially dangerous based solely on its breed, type, or heritage. It would have prohibited a county from enacting a local law prohibiting a person from owning, keeping or harboring a specific breed of dog.

5. HB 523 – Criminal Law – Dangerous Dogs – Penalties
Failed.

The intent of this bill was to increase the fine for certain offenses relating to the possession of a dangerous dog from $2,500 to $5,000 and establishing a term of imprisonment.

6. HB 563 – Civil Actions – Personal Injury or Death Caused by Dog
Failed.

This bill provided that in a civil action for damages for personal injury or death caused by a dog, the common law that applied on January 1, 2012 would be retained canceling the Court of Appeals holding.

7. HB 665/SB659 – Crimes Relating to Animals – Surgery on Dogs – Penalties
Governor vetoed HB 665 because it was duplicative but Approved SB659.

SB659 prohibits a person, other than a licensed veterinarian to use anesthesia when appropriate to perform procedures on a dog and establishes penalties for violations. (Procedures include crop or cut off the ear of a dog; dock or cut off the tail of a dog; cut off the dewclaw of a dog; or surgically birth a dog.) At one time the bill included language that would allow a registered veterinary technician employed by and under the supervision of a licensed veterinary to be included in the exception to this prohibition but that language was stricken prior to enrollment.

8. HB 667/SB660 – Crimes Relating to Animals – Unauthorized Surgical Devocalization of Cat or Dog – Penalties
Approved by the Governor.

This bill prohibits a person from surgically devocalizing a dog or cat, but it authorizes a licensed veterinarian to surgically devocalize a dog or cat under specific circumstances. The specific circumstances listed are only if anesthesia is administered to the animal during the procedure; and the veterinarian provides the owner or keeper of the animal a written certification that: 1. The procedure was medically necessary to treat or relieve a physical illness, disease or an injury, or to correct a congenital abnormality that is causing or will cause the animal medical harm or pain. The legislation provides penalties for violation.

9. HB 1347/SB 862 – Animal Welfare – Research Facilities – Dogs and Cats
Failed.

This bill was intended to require specified medical and research facilities that use dogs and cats for research purposes to be licensed by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiner, set a license fee, prohibited the facilities from using specific dogs and cats, and prohibited specified facilities form performing specified devocalization surgeries.

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