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Service Dogs Guaranteed Access To Public Spaces Under New NJ Law

Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT file photo

New Jersey remains a national leader in its protection for guide and service dogs and their handlers with a new law that carries fines for anyone who prevents a service animal from accessing a public facility.

Known as "Charlie's Law" -- for a service dog who was kicked out of a Cherry Hill airport while with a teen owner given to panic attacks -- the measure underscores provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the general public to admit service animals.

“If a student needs insulin or an inhaler, we don’t impose a burden upon that student," said state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle of Bergen County, a co-sponsor of the bill, which was approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Christie.

"The case of a student whose disability warrants the use of a service dog should be no different," she said.

Ben Shore, whose dog, Charlie, pressed a button to cast a "yes" vote for one of the lawmakers earlier this year, helped make the difference.

"I take AP U.S. government and politics [courses] and know most bills don't become law," Shore told Daily Voice. "This was different. So many people supported it."

A first violation of the law would carry a minimum penalty of $250. That doubles for a second violation -- to $500 -- and again, to $1,000, for a third.

Fine money would fund educational programs for law enforcement officers on the right of persons with disabilities to have service or guide dogs in places of public accommodation.

“Service dogs have been proven to provide assistance and comfort in a way that many other therapeutic options cannot," co-sponsoring Assemblywoman Benjie Wimberly of Bergen and Passaic counties said.

"As elected officials we recognized their value and codified it into law," she said. "Public officials everywhere must follow suit.”

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