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Capitol Chatter: Service animal owners want protection against fakes

Beth Kantor of Plymouth tells a Minnesota Senate committee on Wednesday, March 7, 2018, that a service dog is important to help her get around with multiple sclerosis. Watching are state Sens. Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids and Ann Rest of New Hope. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—It's a safe bet that few Minnesotans knew about fake service animals until recently.

Some national news about people trying to take what they call service animals onto airplanes attracted attention, followed by Minnesota legislative hearings in which people who use service dogs told lawmakers that untrained dogs other owners pass off as "service dogs" distract trained animals and force people who manage buildings to think their real service dogs could cause trouble.

"Their owners can't get them to be quiet," Beth Kantor of Plymouth said about owners of untrained animals who also have been known to bite service dogs.

While federal law requires service animals to be allowed in most public places, managers have the option of kicking them out if they cause disturbances.

Kantor said her multiple sclerosis—"a fairly invisible disability"—can make others wonder why she has a service dog. But she said that Dazzle, a smooth-haired collie, is vital in helping her get around outside her home.

Those with fake service dogs make life difficult for people who have disabilities served by trained dogs.

"The moral compass is gone," she said of those who use untrained animals. "There needs to be a legal compass."

Legislators from both parties are behind bills to give managers permission to keep untrained service animals off their properties. If the bills become law, people who improperly claim their animals are trained could be fined $100 for the first offense.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, passed through a Senate committee. A similar bill by Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, was heard by a House panel, but then was tabled while some questions are answered.

Green said he got involved with the issue after a constituent told him her service dog had to be euthanized after being attacked by a fake service dog.

"I don't want to go back to my life before," Kantor told lawmakers. "I don't want to go back to looking at the ceiling and not being able to move again. I don't want my children finding me on the floor again. ... I need someone to help."

Dogs, and occasionally miniature horses, are service animals under federal law, but recent news reports indicate a wide variety of animals are being claimed as service animals.

'Cap legal fees'

Rep. Matt Bliss said his jaw dropped when he learned that a law office will get the first $125 million out of an $850 million state settlement with 3M.

The Pennington Republican quickly crafted a bill to limit paying private lawyers 2 percent of an award or $100,000, whichever is more.

The state brought in a private company because the outside lawyers had more experience than state ones for the lawsuit, in which the state sought $5 billion for damage and health problems caused by toxic chemicals 3M dumped in the eastern Twin Cities. The same thing happened in the 1990s when another law firm got $427 million when the state won a lawsuit against big tobacco companies.

"It needs to stop," Bliss said. "Why are we spending an insane amount of taxpayer dollars to hire private law firms instead of having the state represent itself? We have a state attorney general's office and hundreds of lawyers already in position."

State of State coming

Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his final State of the State speech on Wednesday, March 14.

The 7 p.m. speech to a joint session of the Legislature will be closely watched since in his 2017 speech he passed out, but also because political observers are curious what he wants to accomplish before he leaves elective office early in January.

Forum Communications Co.'s Minnesota websites will carry the speech live.

The next day, Dayton plans to release details of changes he wants in the two-year budget lawmakers passed and he signed last year.

Painter may run

A Minnesotan who frequently shows up on cable television news shows may run for the U.S. Senate.

Richard Painter, 56, said he is exploring running for the seat Sen. Al Franken gave up, now filled by Tina Smith.

However, Painter said that if he runs, he does not know if it will be in a party or as an independent.

Painter is a former chief ethics counsel of the George W. Bush administration and current University of Minnesota corporate law professor.

He lives in Mendota Heights.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.