Our View of the Legislature: Service Animals

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This afternoon, the Senate Committee on General Laws approved a bill dealing with service animals in residential dwellings. The bill is a revision of a bill from last year that the disability community worked hard to defeat.

Last year’s bill addressed a supposed problem with people claiming to need a service animal or therapeutic animal illegitimately. HB 1725 (Van Valkenburg) now places the penalty for fraudulent documentation on the entity that produces a document asserting that an animal is a service animal. The 2023 legislation makes it a civil violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. At committee, Senator Stuart questioned whether the bill, as passed by the House, could penalize a tenant who “produces” the document to a landlord, however, the Committee believed that the bill is sufficiently directed towards organizations that produce the documents for a fee, and not directed towards tenants.

The bill is a dramatic improvement over the proposal from last year, HB 586, which would have made it a crime for a person with a disability to claim the need for a service animal in housing in some circumstances.

There is a fiscal impact statement on the bill that suggests it may be in violation of federal fair housing laws and could therefore put federal funds at risk. The bill contains a clause that says that if it does conflict with federal law, it will be invalidated.

The mission of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia is to advance independence, choice, and self-determination; protect legal, human, and civil rights; and eliminate abuse, neglect, and discrimination of people with disabilities through zealous and uncompromising legal advocacy and representation. We fully support the right of individuals to have service animals in public accommodations and housing as protected by both state and federal law.

We are available to educate policymakers about the potential impact of legislative proposals. Please let us know of any issues that you think we should be following. Contact us at ga@dlcv.org or info@dlcv.org or by calling 1-800-552-3962 or 804-225-2042.