COLUMBUS -- A bill granting the "pit bull'' a reprieve from an Ohio law that automatically judges it to be a vicious dog won bipartisan support Wednesday on its way to the House floor.
The House Criminal Justice Committee voted 10-2 to send the bill to the full chamber, where it is expected to see a vote before the General Assembly recesses for the summer before the end of the month.
"This has been around the block a number of times,'' said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township). "We've been through the painstaking process of getting due-process into the bill. It's there, and it's been very well vetted.''
The House approved a measure removing the breed-specific language from Ohio law last session only to see it die without a vote in the Senate. Ms. Sears hopes that recently added language creating new and revised classifications of dogs and spelling out the responsibilities of owners for each class will make the difference this time.
The changes have brought the Ohio Dog Wardens Association, who previously opposed the bill, on board.
Rep. Sandra Williams (D., Cleveland) was one of the two negative votes. She said she may have voted differently if she didn't live in a city where "pit bulls" are associated with drug houses.
She said she was recently confronted by a "pit bull" and its owner in her neighborhood. The owner told her that she was having trouble getting liability insurance, something she is required to do under current law as a condition of owning a "pit bull."
"If this bill were to pass, if that dog attacked, there would be absolutely nothing I could do,'' she said. "If the dog warden were to take it and go to the court, it might be eight or nine months and that dog would still be out in the streets.''
Ms. Sears conceded that, with the removal of the "pit-bull" specific language, the first bite would be free for the "pit bull" before insurance and other requirements would kick in.
"But the first, second, and third bites are free for any other dog,'' she said. "If you look at it in those terms, you see that there's a liberalization in that one area. When you look at all dogs, just because the 'pit bull' is the flavor of the month or year, that doesn't mean that it always will be. Our bill will also address the Rotweiller or any other dog that is trained to take the place of the 'pit bull.' "
The only lawmaker from northwest Ohio on the committee, Rep. Robert Sprague (R., Findlay), voted for the bill.
Ohio's 24-year-old law defines a "vicious dog'' as one that, without provocation, has killed or seriously injured a person, has killed another dog, or is of the general breed known as a "pit bull.'' Ohio is the only state with a breed-specific law.
House Bill 14 would weaken the definition of vicious dog, toughen the definition of dangerous dog, and add a new lesser classification of nuisance dog. A "nuisance dog'' would be one that, without provocation and while off the owner's property, has chased, menaced, threatened, or attempted to bite a person.
A "dangerous dog'' would be one that, also without provocation, has injured a person, killed another dog, or has three strikes as a nuisance dog. It is at this point that registration, liability insurance, and special tag requirements would kick in.
A dog would be elevated to "vicious dog'' status if it kills or seriously injures a person, most likely leading to the dog being euthanized and felony charges being filed against the owner.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.
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