(TRENTON) – Assembly Democrats Cleopatra Tucker, Bob Andrzejczak and Adam Taliaferro have introduced legislation meant to educate employees about the state disability law concerning patrons who travel with service or “guide” dogs and how to properly help them.
The sponsors said the intention of the bill is to prevent incidents occurring across the state in which individuals with disabilities were not allowed to have service animals accompany them in a store and other public places.
In August of 2013, a legally blind man was asked to remove his dog from a store even after he explained and gave proof that it was a trained service animal. The resident filed a civil rights complaint and under the settlement, the store was required to train its employees about their legal obligations when dealing with service animals and provide them with related sensitivity training.
“Unfortunately, some businesses remain unclear about state regulations protecting New Jersey’s disabled residents who require service dogs. These animals are not pets. They are as significant to a maintaining quality of life for a disabled individual,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “This requirement would help to clear up any confusion or misinformation out there on the treatment of service animals in public places.”
The bill requires any employer who has one or more employees serving customers or other individuals in a place of public accommodation or other public facility, or otherwise has the ability to provide or deny access to the place or facility, to provide training to those employees regarding the right of an individual with a disability to have a guide or service dog in places of public accommodation or other public facilities under the relevant provisions of State and federal law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” It also specifies that “organizations that serve the public must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.”
“Service animals are the eyes, the ears, the legs and sometimes they ensure personal safety for individuals with disabilities,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland). “Many of New Jersey veterans rely on guide dogs to help them with everyday tasks as well provide support in medical emergencies. Educating employees will help us ensure that nothing will stand in the way of a service animal doing its job.”
“Unlike a companion or therapy animal, service animals provide much more than comfort to their owner. They enable their owners to be independent and live their best lives,” said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Camden). “By training and teaching employees how to handle situations in which service dogs are involved, we protect the rights of individuals who are disabled to have their guide dog wherever they go.”
An employer may satisfy the training requirement of the bill by utilizing training that may be provided at no cost by the Division on Civil rights within the state Department of Law and Public Safety, the New Jersey State Bar Association, or any other entity, or may, at its discretion, implement a training program at its own cost.
The bill was introduced on June 15. It has been referred to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.