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Az lawmaker: Exempt service dog owners from licensing fee

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People who rely on service dogs shouldn’t have to pay to register them as pets, a state lawmaker contends.

“For the people who are disabled and on a fixed budget, they’re watching every penny and shouldn’t have to pay for the service dog they need,” said Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria.

At present, anyone who needs a service dog and registers it with his or her county has to pay the same fee as someone registering a pet. For instance, it costs $17 to register a neutered or spayed dog in Maricopa County and $42 to register dogs that aren’t neutered or spayed.

The registration provides proof of ownership and requires that dogs receive rabies shots.

Livingston said he authored HB 2355 to provide a bit of relief for those relying on service dogs. The measure also would apply to search and rescue dogs.

“I’ve had a couple of people in my district, retirees, veterans, who brought this to my attention,” Livingston said. “Even though it’s a small fee, it’s an important fee for them.”

Livingston said the bill wouldn’t change any other part of the animal registration process. Counties could still have the owners register dogs and keep them up to date with shots but couldn’t charge to register them.

The House Agriculture and Water Committee endorsed the bill last week on a 6-1 vote, forwarding it to the floor.

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HB 2355 is one of two bills in the House addressing service animals. HB 2401, authored by Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, would expand the definition of service animals under Arizona law to include miniature horses trained to assist the disabled. That bill won approval from the House Health Committee and was awaiting action by the full House.

Livingston said he would offer a floor amendment to address a provision in his bill dictating that owners must prove the dog is a service animal, which advocates said runs counter to the Americans With Disabilities Act.

JJ Rico, managing attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law, said the amendment should mirror ADA standards mandating that no one can ask if a person is disabled, though he noted that it’s fine to ask if a dog is a service dog and what is it trained to do.

“If it’s passed with an amendment, this bill would help financially,” Rico said. “If people don’t have to pay for a dog license, that would minimize the expenses for a group that can’t always spare it.”

Amina Kruck, vice president of Advocacy for the Arizona Board to Independent Living, who also raised concerns about the requirement of proof, said the bill as amended would help a community that often has half the income of able-bodied Arizonans.

“I know people on really fixed incomes, and this would really help them with independence,” she said.

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Christina Dawidowicz/TucsonSentinel.com

Sheila Hawkins and her dog Sonny accept a service dog training certificate at the Handi-Dogs graduation ceremony in 2011.

Service animal defined

Dogs that are trained to do work for an individual with a disability, such as guiding someone who can’t see, pushing wheelchairs or providing assistance in a medical emergency.

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