Maryland Senate amends dog bite bill -- Gazette.Net


ANNAPOLIS — In what some Senators described as a “bow” to the will of Maryland’s House of Delegates, the state Senate will vote as early as Friday on a slightly amended bill for dog bites.

However, the single Senate amendment that passed Wednesday has the bill’s House sponsor concerned more amendments could be on the horizon in his chamber.

Senators debated for more than an hour Wednesday on two amendments to a compromise crafted by Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons. The compromise would overturn a controversial court ruling on pit bulls while also allowing owners of dogs that cause harm to have their cases heard by juries.

After first defeating all amendments proposed to that bill, the Senate reconsidered and passed one, which added a provision to hold owners of dogs running at large liable if their dogs bite.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore), has a few exceptions.

It would not apply to dogs that harm someone who trespasses on the owners’ property, commits or attempts to commit a criminal offense, or otherwise provokes the dog.

Across the State House, Simmons (D-Montgomery) said he “could live with” the amendment.

“It’s not really appreciably different than what the House had supported in the past,” he said.

While Simmons found the amendment acceptable, he criticized the action.

“It’s not wise to put an amendment on it,” he said. “It did not serve the compromise.”

To the argument that the Senate is caving to the House, Simmons said: “This is silliness.”

The compromise increases protection for victims of dog bites, which the Senate favored, while also allowing owners a defense, he said.

“No one has bowed to anyone,” he said, adding that the compromise contains elements that each chamber doesn’t like.

As the bill continues on a path to the House for consideration, Simmons warned that the Senate’s amendment could open the floodgates for more amendments in the House.

If Simmons — who is running for state Senate — and other potential supporters cannot fight off any amendments, the bill could fall apart yet again, he said. As of Wednesday, he could not say who would stand with him and fight to keep the compromise intact.

Frosh (D-Montgomery) — who is running for attorney general — was “the indispensable man” in moving the bill through the Senate largely as written, Simmons said.

Maryland’s General Assembly has tried for two years to pass a standard of liability for dog bites and repeal the 2012 state Court of Appeals ruling that held landlords strictly liable and declared pit bulls inherently dangerous. Strict liability holds someone legally responsible for damages and loss regardless of fault.

For two years running, the chambers have failed to see eye to eye. The Senate favors strict liability for all owners, regardless of breed; the House prefers allowing owners what many call “one free bite.”

However, both the Senate and House agree that the law should be breed-neutral and landlords only should be held liable if they knew the dog was vicious or dangerous.

Frosh’s bill with the amendment is scheduled for a final vote as early as Friday.