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MD Update: Bills Addressing Breed-Specific Concerns Amended by General Assembly

(Tuesday, March 26, 2013)
Three bills regarding breed-specific concerns continue to advance in the Maryland General Assembly. Maryland residents are encouraged to contact their State Delegate and Senator to express your opinion on these measures:

House Bill 78/Senate Bill 160 – Repeal of Tracey v. Solesky Ruling

House Bill 78 / Senate Bill 160 seek to overturn the Tracey v. Solesky court of appeals ruling that declared all “pit bulls” as inherently dangerous and held landlords liable for “pit bulls” owned by tenants. These bills would overturn this ruling. These bills also create strict liability for all dog owners  regardless of breed. HB 78/SB 160 would create the rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known the dog had dangerous propensities.

SB 160 has unanimously passed the Senate and will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, March 27, at 1:00 p.m. The Senate amended the portion of the bill regarding strict liability. It still creates the rebuttable presumption that the owner should have known about their dog’s propensities. However, new provisions have been added that says, “Notwithstanding any other law or rule, the presumption may not be rebutted as a matter of law.” It then says the presumption may be rebutted if there is clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not know and should not have known their dog had “vicious or dangerous propensities. Click here for House Judiciary Committee members and their contact information.

HB 78 has passed the House and is pending in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill was amended to clarify that the liability against any person other than the owner of the dog would be the same as it was before the court ruling. As introduced, this clarification would have only extended to landlords, homeowners associations, and other tenant property owners. Click here for Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee members and their contact information.

The AKC, along with the Maryland Dog Federation support the efforts to overturn the Tracey v. Solesky court ruling. As currently written, we believe that House Bill 78 as amended will be the clearer and more effective of the two bills.

House Bill 1203 – Prohibiting Insurance Companies from Dog Breed or Size Discrimination

House Bill 1203 as introduced would have prohibited insurance companies from refusing to underwrite, or excluding homeowner’s or renter’s insurance coverage based solely on the breed or size of the dog owned by the applicant.

Unfortunately, it has been amended by the House Economic Matters Committee to only require insurance companies to provide an annual statement regarding the policyholder’s coverage. This statement must include the disclosure that “the policy does not cover losses caused by dog breeds specifically excluded under the policy.” When homeowner’s insurance is initially purchased, the applicant must be given a written notice that states whether the insurer underwrites policies on a breed-specific basis or if the policy has breed-specific exclusions (this written notice must include the list of breeds excluded by the insurance company).

While AKC GR appreciates that applicants must be notified at the time of application, we are disappointed that the amendments remove the protections for dog owners who own specific breeds of dogs. The bill has passed committee and second reading in the House. Maryland residents are encouraged to contact their State Delegate and express disappointment that this measure was amended. You are also encouraged to share any other thoughts or concerns you have with HB 1203. Visit the Maryland General Assembly home page and click on the “Voice my Opinion” link on the bottom of the page to find the name and contact information for your State Delegate.

The American Kennel Club Government Relations Department (AKC GR) will continue to monitor these bills and provide updates. For more information, contact AKC GR at (919) 816-3720 or doglaw@akc.org or the Maryland Dog Federation at marylanddogfederation@yahoo.com.