Allen/Sweeney ‘Charlie’s Law’ Creates Penalties for Denying People with Service Dogs Access to Public Facilities
Legislation sponsored by Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Senate President Steve Sweeney to establish civil penalties for denying disabled persons accompanied by a service dog access to a public facility has cleared the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “Charlie’s Law” is named after a service dog assisting Ben Shore, 16, of Cherry Hill. Charlie was last year ordered out of a Florida airport by security guards.
“Service animals like Charlie are a necessity, not a luxury,” Senator Allen said. “Every disabled person who relies on a service dog has a legal right to navigate a public space with a highly trained companion that ensures their safety and independence. Without Charlie’s Law, many people who rely on service animals will continue to face discrimination, or delays as they try to seek justice when their rights are violated. This legislation will empower local law enforcement to provide immediate assistance when a person is turned away from a public space because of their service animal.”
“Denying access to service dogs is the same as denying access to the disabled who rely on these dogs to live their lives as active members of society,” said Senator Sweeney. “They aren’t just pets or companions, they are essential to the people they serve. This bill will help to ensure the rights of the disabled are protected and the ability of the service dogs to accompany them is safeguarded.”
To enforce the current statute, the Division of Civil Rights has to conduct an investigation, which is a lengthy process that often isn’t ever finished. Under this bill, the local law enforcement would be required to issue a summons and the municipal court would have authority to impose the penalty.
- Under current law, any person with a disability accompanied by a service or guide dog trained by a recognized training agency or school is entitled, with his dog, to access all public facilities, subject only to the following conditions:
- A person with a disability, if accompanied by a service or guide dog, shall keep such dog in his immediate custody at all times;
- A person with a disability accompanied by a service or guide dog shall not be charged any extra fee or payment for admission to or use of any public facility;
- A person with a disability who has a service or guide dog in his possession shall be liable for any damages done to the premises of a public facility by such dog.
A person who violates Charlie’s Law, in addition to any other relief or affirmative action provided by law, would be liable to a civil penalty of no less than: $250 for the first violation; $500 for the second violation; and $1,000 for the third and each subsequent violation.
The penalty assessed would be appropriated to the Department of Law and Public Safety to fund educational programs for law enforcement officers on the right of a person with a disability to have a service or guide dog in a place of public accommodation. The bill also requires the Attorney General to establish a public awareness campaign to inform the public about the provisions of the bill.