Anyone in Florida “willfully misrepresenting oneself as being qualified to use a service animal or being a trainer of a service animal” could face up to 60 days in jail, as reported by baynews9.com, based on a new law approved by the Governor on June 11, 2015. While the law penalizes some, it also provides for accommodations to those individuals with legitimate disabilities who rely on service animals to assist them in daily activities. Specifically, the law:
[r]equires public accommodation to permit use of service animal by individual with disability; provides conditions for public accommodation to exclude or remove service animal; revises penalties for certain persons or entities who interfere with use of service animal . . .
The new law amends the prior definition of a individual with a disability from one “who is deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or otherwise physically disabled”
to add an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
A ‘physical or mental impairment’ is defined in part as a physiological disorder or condition that affects at least one bodily function or a mental or psychological disorder as specified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The term ‘major life activity’ is defined as a function such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
The law also provides guidance about which questions can and cannot be asked of anyone entering a public facility with a service animal. As permitted by the American with Disabilities Act:
a public accommodation may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability in order to determine if an animal is a service animal or pet. However, a public accommodation may ask if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability and what work the animal has been trained to perform.
Owners of service animals must maintain control over the animal, which must be housebroken and cannot pose a serious threat to others.
As previously discussed, the misrepresentation of pets as service animals creates additional obstacles to those individuals with disabilities who rely on their service animal for daily activities. More states should consider adopting laws like this one which should curtail such misrepresentation, while still protecting the rights of the disabled.