PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After a busy few weeks finalizing the budget for the next fiscal year, the Rhode Island General Assembly wrapped up its session Friday night.
Before taking recess, lawmakers approved a bill that aims to prevent people from misrepresenting their pets as service animals.
Senator Roger Picard of Woonsocket is one of the bill’s sponsors.
He says the legislation clarifies current law and shines a light on an issue that’s only getting worse year after year.
“It’s becomes more and more of a problem. So they really want to delineate what a service animal was versus a therapy animal versus an emotional support animal versus a family pet,” Sen. Picard said.
When he isn’t in the State House, Picard is a social worker. He says the bill is meant to protect the rights of people with disabilities, while also giving business owners more power to turn people away who abuse the right to service animals.
“They’re under a lot of rules and regulations. The Department of Health comes into your restaurant and you have animals in the area where your patrons are and they’re not supposed to be there they can get themselves into a lot of trouble,” Picard said.
Currently, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses are required to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. They may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.
The state bill specifically defines service animals as dogs that have been trained to assist an individual with a disability, such as a guide dog.
State businesses may post a decal in a front window or door stating that service animals are welcome and that misrepresentation of a service animal is violation of Rhode Island law.
Someone caught lying about their animal would face a civil citation, up to 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves people with disabilities.
“You may not really understand what a person with a disability is going through, I think this exposes you to what they going through and why it’s inappropriate to try and use the rights that they have for yourself,” Picard said.
The bill still needs to be signed by the governor. Senator Picard said he expects that happen in the coming weeks.