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Santa Monica Lawmaker's Bill to Allow Therapy Dogs in Court Wins Key Vote  

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By Lookout Staff

March 15, 2017 -- A state bill proposed by a Santa Monica lawmaker to allow “therapy” dogs in court during witness testimony cleared a key hurdle on Tuesday, officials announced.

The bill sponsored by Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), passed the seven-member Assembly Committee on Public Safety unanimously, his office said.

If signed into law, AB 411 allows the especially trained dogs into court rooms to lend comfort and emotional support to “vulnerable victims and witnesses, including certain child witnesses,” Bloom said.

Existing law prohibits victims and child witnesses from testifying with the aid of a support dog -- even if the proceeding trial judge believes a support dog would be appropriate,” said Bloom, who practiced as a family law attorney.

“Testifying during a court case can be a stressful experience for witnesses and victims of crimes,” he said. “AB 411 will ensure that these individuals have the emotional support they need in a courtroom.”

Therapy dogs receive special training, and provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas and to people with special needs, according to the American Kennel Club.

They differ from “service dogs,” which are individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate their handlers’ disabilities.

Bloom said “therapy and facility” dogs are common throughout California but that some presiding judges allow “only dogs explicitly named in state statute” into their court rooms.

The absence of such a statute “has had the unintended effect of banning therapy and facility dogs from entering court houses,” Bloom said.

Precedent exits for allowing therapy dogs in courtrooms, he said.

In People v. Spence, a California appellate court upheld the trial court’s allowance of a therapy dog to accompany a ten-year-old child victim of molestation to the witness stand, he said.

Similarly, People v. Chenault upheld the trial court’s allowance of a therapy dog to accompany 11- and 13-year-old girls during testimony.

“AB 411 follows these cases and seeks to preserve the integrity of California’s criminal justice system by ensuring that the state provides courts with multiple tools to support witnesses and victims while testifying,” the lawmaker said.

Bloom’s 50th Assembly District includes Santa Monica as well as West Los Angeles, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Hollywood, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Agoura Hills, Topanga and West Hollywood.

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