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Our view: HB 1259: A needed law in ND

Herald editorial board

As more people fraudulently claim pets as service animals, problems can arise in crowded airliners. For example, imagine the frustration of passengers when a woman tried to board an airliner in Newark, N.J., with a peacock in tow. A large, real peacock.

And since "official" paperwork and other accoutrements — such as vests and badges an animal can wear — are easily obtained on the internet, it's getting much more difficult to determine if an animal truly is a service or emotional-support partner or simply a fraud. Delta Airlines, for instance, last year reported an 84 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016.

That's why many airlines now limit the number of service animals that can fly in a plane's cabin at one time.

And that's one reason why many states — now more than 20 — have passed laws that make it illegal to falsely claim a pet is a service animal.

Add North Dakota to that list.

The House of Representatives on Monday voted 85-4 to approve HB 1259, which makes it illegal to lie about a pet's status as a service animal to gain admission into a public place or to obtain housing that does not allow regular pets. Those who do so now face a penalty as high as $1,000.

The measure passed the state Senate 43-0 earlier this session.

In January, Forum News Service — reporting from Bismarck — told the story of veteran Jason Cook, who testified at the Legislature how his service dog helps him deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury. His dog helps him feel comfortable in crowded places. Legitimate service dogs have undergone rigorous training and know how to perform certain tasks and remain entirely focused.

False claims about service animals are putting more animals in otherwise restricted areas. That makes some people — Cook among them — uncomfortable to take his trained service animal into stressful places. Illegitimate service animals can be disruptive and can adversely interact with trained animals.

It's difficult for airlines, retail businesses and especially for landlords, who are being flooded with requests for accommodations for pets being passed off as legitimate service animals. Again, the problem is compounded by inconsistent certification processes, easily accessible fake certificates and wearable vests, and tricky federal laws limiting what businesses and landlords can legally do about it.

States are getting wise, however, and working to end this practice. Minnesota did it last year; North Dakota now has followed suit.

As we said earlier this year, the real victims are not the businesses and landlords who are duped or simply forced to endure the fraud. They are inconvenienced and put in difficult situations.

The victims are people who legitimately need a service animal, but are uncomfortable taking their service animal out into the public because there are so many frauds. Or worse, they face the scorn of people who wonder whether their animal is legitimately trained.

That just isn't right.

Fortunately, HB 1259 is a solution.

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