Maryland House passes dog bill

Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday unanimously passed legislation rendering moot a court decision singling out pit bulls as inherently vicious and dangerous dogs.

The bill would require a dog owner to prove that his or her dog is not dangerous if the owner is sued when the animal bites someone. Maryland currently operates under the so-called "One Bite" doctrine, where a bite victim has to prove a dog is dangerous and has bitten somebody before if he or she want to sue its owner. Critics have said this gives all dogs one free bite.

The measure would hold the dog owner solely responsible in any lawsuits stemming from a bite, protecting landlords or dog walkers or anybody else from being sued when a dog bites somebody.

Also in Annapolis
• The House passed a measure to change the way pensions are funded, requiring the state to fully fund its pension systems within 10 years.
• The House approved a bill allowing natural gas companies to institute up to a $2-a-month surcharge to cover the replacement of infrastructure.
• Legislation was introduced to legalize marijuana. The bill, from Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, would make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and create a system to regulate and tax it like alcohol.

The measure passed the House 133-0. It now goes to the Senate.

"We're absolutely thrilled that the lawmakers have agreed and have passed what we believe is a reasonable measure to address the court's ruling," said Kirsten Theisen, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States.

"This makes it a much more fair assessment that any dog's propensity to violence needs to be measured by the behavior of the dog and the decisions that dog's owners have made," she said.

The bill came in reaction to a 2012 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals that said pit bulls were "vicious and inherently dangerous" dogs. For that reason, their owners were liable if the animals were to bite someone. Other breeds were still held to the One Bite doctrine.

The ruling stemmed from a case where a pit bull terrier escaped its pen and mauled a 10-year-old boy, cutting his femoral artery and almost killing him. The boy's father sued not only the dog's owner, but also the owner's landlord.

In light of the court ruling, many landlords across Maryland took the precaution of warning their residents or outright banning pit bull ownership. Opponents of the ruling called it a de-facto ban on the breed, with owners sometimes having to choose between their dog and their residence.

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