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Staff writer

Dog owners and advocates looking for some clarity on who is liable when dogs attack will have to wait a little longer after the House Judiciary Committee voted 20-2 to amend a Senate bill addressing dog bites, effectively sending the bill to a conference committee.

After striking a compromise early in the session, the Senate amended the bill, making it more difficult for dog owners to prove that they had no knowledge of their pets’ dangerous propensities. The House is looking to revert the bill to its original form, taking out the Senate’s language “clear and convincing evidence,” which sponsor Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) said will make it nearly impossible for owners to be held not liable for their dogs’ behavior.

“We’re going to try to find, again, common ground,” Simmons said, though he is concerned that no matter what the conference committee does, the Senate will not vote for a bill that does not hold dog owners strictly liable for damage done by their animals.

The debate began after the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled on a dog attack case that left a 10-year-old Baltimore County boy maimed.

If a bill does not pass this session, the court’s decision in Tracey v. Solesky stands: Pit bulls will be considered inherently dangerous under the law, and landlords will be held strictly liable for attacks by their tenants’ pit bulls.

Dog owners and advocates said the decision makes living situations for pit bull owners problematic — landlords will not want tenants with pit bulls or dogs that resemble pit bulls, and shelters will be full of such dogs.

“While there are some differences between the House and Senate approaches, we are confident that these dedicated lawmakers will work together to take this over the line and give Maryland families the safety and peace of mind they deserve,” said Pauline Houliaras, president of B-More Dog, in a statement. B-More Dog is an advocacy group for dog owners in Baltimore.

“The only thing worse than no solution is a terrible solution, and we might get a terrible solution,” Simmons said, adding that homeowners insurance could go up for all dog owners if the Senate gets its way.

The House is expected to pass the bill swiftly Friday to send it to the conference committee.

“I want to see victims benefit from the change, and dog owners allowed to defend themselves in court,” Simmons said.