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House & Senate Tangle Over Dog Bite Legislation

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pit bull on leash
PatWarrenWebPhoto Pat Warren
Pat Warren joined the Eyewitness News team in 1992. Pat came to WJZ...
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ANNAPOLSI, Md. (WJZ) — A dogfight is developing in the House and Senate as the compromise on a bill announced at the start of the session collapses.

Political reporter Pat Warren explains the two chambers disagree on how to deal with dog bites.

A toddler was bitten in the face by a pit bull beagle mix in Dundalk on Sunday.

“We’re talking about a 20-month-old kid. We want to make sure that she gets treated fairly,” said Senator Brian Frosh.

But the Senate disagrees with a bill passed by the House that outlines that fairness.

“I love dogs but if my dog bites a little kid, I should be responsible for it–not the kid and not the parents of the kids,” said Bobby Zirkin.

The General Assembly is trying to correct what some see as unfairness in the Court of Appeals ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous and that owners and landlords are automatically responsible for damages.

The House and Senate have bills that cover all dogs, not just pit bulls, and allow owners to prove that they had no reason to believe their dog was a threat to anybody. But they differ on the degree of proof.

“In my community, we don’t have Fluffy. We have Brutus and Brutus bites people real bad and I want Brutus taken out of my community,” said Nathaniel McFadden.

“The people that are bit are the victims. We’ve gotta think about the victims a little more so than we do the dog owner,” said Senate President Mike Miller.

The Senate is requiring a greater degree of certainty in evidence provided by dog owners that they believed the pet was harmless. So for the moment, there is no agreement to undo what the Court of Appeals has done.

“So we’re basically back to where we were in the special session. Back to square one,” Miller said.

The Senate has yet to take a final vote on the dog bill. There’s little or no chance that it will conform to the House’s version, leaving dog owners and victims still wondering what to do.

The lawmakers are expecting to call a conference committee to iron out their differences before the end of the session.

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