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New law regarding service animals takes effect

A law cracking down on people who knowingly misrepresent a pet as an assistance animal went into effect Aug. 1. The new law is aimed at stopping people who pose pets as service animals in public in order to obtain rights or privileges available t...

A law cracking down on people who knowingly misrepresent a pet as an assistance animal went into effect Aug. 1.

The new law is aimed at stopping people who pose pets as service animals in public in order to obtain rights or privileges available to someone who qualifies for a service animal under state or federal law.

"It had become clear something needed to be done to address this growing problem and public safety concern," State Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) said in a press release. "I am pleased we were able to put this new law in place and, maybe just as important, raise public awareness to this issue along the way. The danger that can be posed by bringing personal pets into public spaces maybe had been under the radar, not to mention all of the unintended consequences that some bad actors may cause for legitimate service animals."

The law authored by Green and Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids) makes a first-time violation a petty misdemeanor, punishable with a $100 fine; subsequent offenses will be misdemeanors.

The federal language defining a service animal applies to the new state law: "Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals. ... The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability. ... The provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition."

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Businesses may post signs near an entrance stating service animals are welcome, but that it is crime to misrepresent such an animal. A property owner will be granted immunity for injury or damage caused by a service animal if "the owner believes in good faith that the animal is an assistance animal or the individual using the assistance animal represents that the animal is an assistance animal; and the injury or damage is not caused by the negligence of the owner of the real property."

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill on May 1, after it passed both houses of the Legislature with only one Representative voting against.

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