'Charlie's Law' Stems from N.J. Teen's Petition to Criminalize Denying Dogs Access in Public Places
Legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to uphold the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to public facilities was unanimously approved by the full Assembly on Monday.
The sponsors proposed the legislation after 16-year-old Cherry Hill resident Ben Shore raised concerns about a policy in the school district outlining preconditions to be met in order for a student to be accompanied by a service animal, like his service dog Charlie.
The bill (A-4081), known as "Charlie's Law," would establish civil penalties for those who deny individuals with disabilities accompanied by service or guide dogs access to any public facility.
The measure would underscore provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the general public to admit service animals.
"People with disabilities rely on service animals to access services and opportunities that otherwise may be out of reach," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Federal and state law make it clear that bringing a service dog into a public facility is a right. When a disabled individual with a service animal is denied access to a public place, his or her rights are being infringed upon. This legislation would provide immediate recourse when this type of unlawful discrimination occurs."
"If a student needs insulin or an inhaler, we don't impose a burden upon that student. We do whatever is necessary to ensure that his or her health care needs are met. The case of a student whose disability warrants the use of a service dog should be no different," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "The law unequivocally prohibits discrimination against those who need services dogs, and New Jersey has a duty to ensure that public entities, businesses and nonprofits abide by it."
Under the legislation, a first violation would carry a minimum penalty of $250. A second violation would carry a minimum penalty of $500. A third or subsequent violation would carry a minimum penalty of $1,000. Penalties would fund educational programs for law enforcement officers on the right of persons with disabilities to have service or guide dogs in places of public accommodation.
"Service dogs provide immeasurable benefits and comfort to those with a variety of conditions requiring such support," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "We've recognized this and made it clear through legislation that they should have equal access to public facilities. To deny or make it difficult for someone with a service dog to access public facilities is unacceptable."
"Ben and Charlie are a reminder that we need to continue fighting for those without a voice," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Service dogs have been proven to provide assistance and comfort in a way that many other therapeutic options cannot. As elected officials we recognized their value and codified it into law. Public officials everywhere must follow suit."
The measure now awaits final legislative approval from the full Senate.