Thomas (TJ) and I recently visited the Capital for Disability Day. We visited a number of our legislators. We both believe that you need to be engaged if you are to make a difference. Of course we never know whether we have made a difference or not.
However, if you do not try, you will never be an instrument of change. Being that instrument of change is what we are called to be.
This year I worked on HB 849/SB 1146 that deals with Service Animals here in Florida. Service animals are covered and our rights protected by the American With Disabilities Act at a Federal level.
Florida’s law covering service animals has some gaps and loop holes. The intent of the new legislation is to fill these gaps and bring Florida in compliance with the ADA.
Florida law only recognizes service animals for the blind, deaf and physically impaired. There is no coverage under the state law for mental health animals, PTSD service animals or medical alert animals.
Additionally, the ADA defines service animals as dogs and miniature horses. Florida does not specify which animals qualify as “service animals”. This means that someone could claim a service cat, monkey or other animal. This legislation would define service animal in Florida as the same as the federal standards.
The legislation would make it a misdemeanor in Florida to interfere with or deny access to anyone with a service animal. Currently service animal owners have to sue at the federal level. If it is in Florida statute a local law enforcement officer could issue a citation if a person with a service animal is denied access.
The bill also addresses penalties for fake service animals and the rights to animals under the Fair Housing Act.
Overall the legislation create very little that is new. It simply brings Florida in compliance with the Federal ADA legislation.
All of the legislators I spoke with were favorable to the legislation. Unfortunately there are often more bills to vote on than there is time for. Many pieces of good legislation die because there is not enough time to get them through all of the committees.
For most of the citizens of Florida this legislation will have little or no impact on their daily lives. For those of us who use service animals, this legislation is important. A true service dog is considered a piece of medical equipment and is not a luxury but in almost all cases a necessity for the owner of the animal.
Hopefully this year the bills dealing with service animals will make a timely passage through the various committees and make it to the floors of the House and Senate.