TALLAHASSEE -- A bill designed to prevent cases like Padi, a Manatee dog who was nearly euthanized after biting off part of a child's ear while cornered in June, passed its last required House committee Wednesday afternoon.
The proposed law only has one more Senate committee to pass before it can come to a vote on both the House and Senate floors and, assuming it's approved, Gov. Rick Scott can sign it into law. It will become law upon that signature, rather than waiting until July as many bills do.
Padi's case was watched by thousands after the 4-year-old lab mix bit a 4-year-old child on the year, causing a wound that required sutures and reconstructive surgery. Accounts of the bite differed on whether the child lunged at Padi first or if Padi lunged first, but agree that the child had backed the dog into a corner. But it didn't matter, because under state law dogs that cause severe injuries to humans have to be euthanized, regardless of the circumstances leading to the bite.
A judge in December ruled the dog bite law unconstitutional, and Padi was allowed to live.
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, filed legislation that changes the severe dog bite law to be more similar to Florida's dangerous dog law. That allows dogs that are going to be designated dangerous to be the subject of a hearing, where officials can determine the circumstances of the bite and decide if the dangerous dog designation is warranted. If the dog was acting in self-defense or in defense of a human, then they could avoid euthanasia.
"This gives the owner of the dog the opportunity to provide evidence to a hearing
officer," Steube told the House Judiciary Committee.
Both the Senate and House versions have been unanimously approved in every committee. Steube said he expects unanimous support from the full House.
Rep. Jared Evan Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, praised Steube for the bill and said he also wanted to look into changing the law in cases where criminals broke into homes and were bit by household dogs. In those cases, owners should not have to prove that their dog was acting in defense of their home, he said.
"The situation matters," Moskowitz said. "The presumption should fall on the criminal, not the owner."
Steube said he would be willing to work with Moskowitz on that language, but it would likely have to be in another session and not be included in the current bill.
A Manatee County government representative expressed support for the bill at the committee hearing.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby