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Pit bull bill in peril as Senate hardens position

Legislation that would undo a court ruling labeling pit bulls as inherently
dangerous appeared increasingly imperiled as the Senate and House dug in their heels on conflicting positions Tuesday.

By a 40-6 vote, the full Senate rejected an effort by Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin to strip a committee amendment that upset a compromise negotiated early this year between entrenched Senate and House positions on when dog owners  should be liable for bites inflicted by their animals. After the rejection, senators gave the bill their preliminary approval, setting up a likely final vote this week.

The Senate has taken the view that dog owners should be held strictly liable in most cases, where the House view is that owners should continue a get a break as long as they did not know in advance that their dogs had aggressive tendencies.

The House still wants a relatively low “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof for owners to show they did not know their dogs were dangerous. The Senate voted last week to raise that bar to a higher standard – a move that brought accusations of bad faith from the House side.

Both chambers want to overturn the Court of Appeals decision that singled out pit bulls, and both versions of the bill treat all breeds equally. But Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, warned that the conflict raises the possibility that the bill will fail. The result, he said, would be that more pit bull owners will continue to face eviction by landlords who were made potentially liable by the court decision.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller backed the Judicial Proceedings
Committee’s position, saying "we've got to thinks anout the victims."

The Senate chief blamed the split on a spat with "one legislator in the House who has an extreme personality and is lashing out at the Senate" -- an apparent reference to Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Last week Simmons  criticized Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh -- a fellow Montgomery County Democrat -- for failing to win committee approval of the compromise. Simmons said the Senate amendment raising the standard had "killed" the bill.

Miller, backing up Frosh's position, said he saw no reason the matter should not be resolved in a House-Senate conference.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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