Who's a good legislature? You are, Maryland!
This week, Maryland's General Assembly is holding a hearing on a piece of legislation that would undo a controversial court ruling which has made life very hard for Free State pit bull owners.
In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in Tracey v. Solesky that pit bulls and pit bull mixes are "inherently dangerous," and that not only are these dogs' owners "strictly liable" for any attacks, but so are the owners' landlords.
This means that pit bulls are presumed to be dangerous, even if the dogs haven't previously shown any dangerous propensities. Owners of other dogs -- dogs that aren't pit bulls or pit bull mixes -- are only liable if they knew or should have known that their dogs are dangerous. Similarly, landlords aren't usually liable for their tenants' dogs, unless the landlord knew or should have known that the dogs presented an unusual risk of harm.
The ruling has been lambasted both for its substance -- even President Obama says there is no evidence that pit bulls are in fact more dangerous than any other dogs -- and for what the ruling has meant for Maryland families.
The effect of that ruling was to spur a rash of evictions and the surrender of pit bulls to shelters with little chance of adoption given the liability issue for pet owners and landlords, not to mention problems related to homeowners insurance, etc. Such breed-discriminatory legislation does not advance public safety because it separates legal consequences and liability from the behavior of individual dogs and reckless owner practices.
“Every day I wake up and I wonder whether this will be the last day. Someone might say you can no longer keep your dog,” one dog owner, Danielle Windsor, told Baltimore's CBS affiliate. “He’s my best friend, and that’s why I’m here today.”
"Here" is Maryland's capital city, Annapolis, where last week folks who oppose the court ruling were showing support for HB 0073, a bill that would undo the court's 2012 pit bull ruling.
Best Friends summed up the bill in a blog post supporting the proposed legislation, introduced by Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery):
HB 73 would rightly make dog owners, not landlords, responsible for personal injuries or death caused by their dogs. It would also protect responsible dog owners by creating a rebuttable presumption (to indicate that the owner thought the dog was a good dog: for example, he went to obedience classes, does well in doggie daycare, behaves nicely at the groomer).
The hearing on this bill will be held on Thursday. A hearing on companion legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) is scheduled for early February.
Last session, legislation to undo the pit bull ruling failed in the Maryland General Assembly. And some in the animal rescue community aren't wagging their tails over the bill now under consideration -- for example, attorney E. Anne Benaroya, director of the Maryland Animal Law Center, tells HuffPost that it "does absolutely zero except make every dog-owner potentially liable, thereby generating a new cottage industry" among personal injury lawyers.
But many pit bull advocates are pushing for this bill's passage. And Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, tells HuffPost she's optimistic it might go through, this time around.
"The legislation proposed by Sen. Frosh and Del. Simmons is a reasonable compromise that is fair for victims of dog bites and for dog owners. It removes the breed specific policy established in Tracey v. Solesky but raises the bar for all dog owners, regardless of the breed of their dog," she says. "This compromise has been worked out by leaders in the House and Senate, so we are hopeful that the General Assembly will pass it quickly and provide relief to the thousands of Marylanders impacted by this ruling."
Need more convincing that the Maryland Court of Appeals needs a smack on the nose? Here, we'll throw you a bone:
Infographic by Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post
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