Published February 18, 2011
Dog owners in Texas are hot under the collar over a proposal that would require them to buy $100,000 insurance for their pooches.
And they've vowed not to roll over and play dead for what they're calling yet another example of needless nanny-state legislation.
House Bill 998, introduced by state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-Texas, would require owners of unleashed, un-neutered male dogs over 20 pounds to carry a liability insurance policy of at least $100,000. Violations would be classified as a misdemeanor, and punishable by a fine up to $500.
McClendon said large, un-neutered dogs present the highest risk for property damage and injuries to others, and that owners should be held more responsible for their dogs' behavior.
But getting HB 998 passed -- the bill is currently under review by committee -- will be no walk in the park.
"There is a movement inside the animal rights lobby to try to force mandatory spay and neuter laws across the states, and this is just another way to get at it," said Rob Sexton, vice president of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance. The group, which works with sporting dogs, calls the bill "unnecessary and unreasonable" and has asked Texas sportsmen to actively oppose it.
McClendon says she's just trying to take a bite out of a loophole.
"Existing Texas law allows a dog 'one bite' without making the owner responsible. However, it is clearly not working to resolve problems with dog bites," she told FoxNews.com. "According to county animal-control personnel, over 400 dog bites occur in San Antonio each month."
McClendon said one of the victims was a member of her district who was seriously attacked by a dog whose owner was not willing to help pay for the resulting medical bills.
"Situations like this would be remedied under this bill, as insurance would help cover medical expenses incurred as a result of a dog attack," she said.
McClendon added that a revision of the bill is being drafted to apply the law only within incorporated municipal areas; it would also exclude dog owners in hunting and sporting activities in less-populated areas.
Trial Attorney Herb Subin said he thinks the proposal is a great idea.
"It's the same as driving a car," Subin told FoxNews.com. "If you want to have the chance to have a dog that could cause an injury to someone else then the government has a very strong interest to make sure their citizens have the ability to be compensated."
But pet expert and author Wendy Diamond said the same argument can be made for children.
"There are more bullies at school playgrounds than dog fights in dog parks," Diamond insisted. "The government is overreaching with the proposed bill ... when they demand liability insurance on children then this will be fair."
The Heartland Institute's Charlie Vidal added that if McClendon is trying to reduce dog attacks, she's barking up the wrong tree.
"While Jones McClendon wants to protect people from large dogs, her proposal would do just the opposite. Dog owners, knowing that they are insured against any wrongdoing their dog does, will take less care to ensure that Rex is a good boy," Vidal wrote on the institute's blog.
Fox News Legal Analyst Lis Wiehl said dog owners need not worry, and predicted a dog insurance law wouldn't survive a court challenge.
"The whole issue of mandating insurance is being dealt with right now in federal courts with healthcare, and the latest decision says that it's not constitutional to mandate health insurance. So how could you mandate insurance for your dog?" she told FoxNews.com.
Wiehl said the law already holds dog owners responsible for any damage done by their dogs. And victims of dog attacks that haven't been properly compensated can always sue.
"Most homeowner's insurance policies already cover dogs," she added. "The whole thing is ridiculous."