A new bill introduced in Maine would establish a commission to “Ensure Integrity in the use of Service Animals . . . in order to study training and certification requirements of service animals, methods of disseminating information about service animals to the public and documentation of training and certification of service animals.”

Legislators in Maine have not only considered this situation important enough to study, but consider the facts requiring the establishment of the commission “an emergency within the meaning of the Constitution of Main and require the . . . legislation as immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”

We have written previously about the increasing designation of “service animals” for emotional support by animal owners, and the difficulties airlines, restaurants, and landlords have in identifying when such designations are legitimate.  For people who qualify as disabled pursuant to the American with Disabilities Act, businesses questioning the legitimacy of the use of a service animal can be problematic.

Notably, the proposed members of the Maine commission include:

  1. Three members of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate, including members from each of the 2 parties holding the largest number of seats in the Legislature;
  2. Four members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House, including members from each of the 2 parties holding the largest number of seats in the Legislature;
  3. Two members who are trainers of service or therapy animals appointed by the President of the Senate;
  4. One member who is a restaurant owner or operator appointed by the Speaker of the House;
  5. One member of the business community appointed by the Governor; and
  6. One member of the Maine Human Rights Commission appointed by the Governor.

The inclusion of a restaurant owner and a business community member is telling.  Keep in mind that Maine’s motto is “Maine, the Vacation State.”  The state’s population expands exponentially in the summer with visitors (including me and my family).  So the emergent designation could be related to the increasing pressure of restaurant owners and other businesses to permit people entry into their businesses with their “service animals” during the busy season, which is (thankfully) a few months away.

The problem for these businesses is that they have no way to determine which of their customers has a legitimate need for a service animal, since some of the patrons may not appreciate, or worse, may be allergic to the service animals present.

A commission to study this issue is long overdue. Hopefully the commission can recommend the establishment of reasonable and enforceable criteria to permit the entry of service animals accompanying people, even if they do not qualify under the ADA’s provisions but nonetheless have a legitimate need for such accommodation.