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Bill introduced in Michigan seeks to define emotional support animal

Bill introduced in Michigan seeks to define emotional support animal

A bill recently introduced in Lansing aims to crack down on people who pass family pets off as emotional support animals.

The bill comes amid complaints from airlines and landlords who say an increasing number of people are lying about emotional support animals to get around pet policies and fees.

Emotional support animals can ease symptoms for people with depression or anxiety, but current state law does not have a definition for an emotional support animal.

Senate Bill 663 was introduced by Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, and looks to add a definition of an emotional support animal as, “Assistance animal that provides emotional support to a person with a disability who has a disability-related need for that support."

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specialist and systems advocate at the Disability Network Southwest Michigan, Paul Ecklund said, "Some people have a tendency to sort of stretch the truth or tell a lie in stating that their emotional support animal actually is a service animal."

Not protected under the ADA, emotional support animals are in a separate category from service animals, which federal law defines as a dog or miniature horse that performs a specific task for a person with a disability.

Emotional support animals are protected by Federal Aviation and Fair Housing laws, which means airlines and landlords cannot keep those animals out or charge owners extra.

Depending on the airline, it can cost up to $150 each way to bring a pet on a plane on a carry on. Pet rent and pet security deposits can also be expensive.

Under the proposed bill, a person would need documentation from a doctor to prove their emotional support animal is medically necessary and legal.

The bill also says the prescription to certify an emotional support animal must come from a physician who has been seeing the patient for at least six months.

"You’d have to first of all have a disability, a substantial limitation to a major life function. You could have anxiety and we all experience anxiety but where does it cross the line to where it becomes a significant impairment." Ecklund said, "That’s why you have to have a healthcare professional signing off on that."

SB 663 would make it a misdemeanor to falsely pass a pet off as an emotional support animal, punishable up to 90 jails in jail, up to $500 fine, community services and eviction.

The penalties are similar to what's already in please for people who use fake service dogs.

The bill is currently in a senate committee and still needs to make it through the Michigan House and Senate to get the governor's desk.

Whether the bill becomes law, emotional support animals are still not protected by the ADA and therefore aren't offered the same protections at businesses and restaurants.

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