Background: In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of non-disabled people misrepresenting their pet dogs as service animals so their pets can accompany them in public spaces. Increased incidents of pet dogs distracting or attacking service animals have diminished safety and independence for disabled people who rely on service animals to navigate daily life. After negative encounters with imposters, some businesses have denied legitimate service animals access to their establishments, and significant numbers of service dog teams have begun avoiding public spaces for fear of being accosted by untrained pets.
HB 4164 amends Section 121.006 of the Human Resources Code by clarifying the language describing a service animal and strengthening the penalties for misrepresenting an animal as a service animal when they are not specially trained to help a person with a disability. As a result of HB 4164, the fine for asserting an untrained pet is a service animal will increase from $300 to $1000, and the offender may be required to perform 30 hours of community service for organizations serving persons with disabilities. HB 4164 was authored by Representative Philip Cortez and sponsored by Senator John Whitmire. HB 4164 takes effect September 1, 2023.