The greatest casualty of the 2013 General Assembly session very well might be a bill to address liability when dogs bite, and Del. Benjamin F. Kramer said he’s working on bringing legislators back to Annapolis for a one-day special session to settle the issue.
“I think this is the one major issue that did not get resolved,” said Kramer (D-Dist. 19) of Derwood. “I’m making the case for a one-day special session.”
Kramer is drafting a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley to request a special session to address one specific issue created by the April 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Tracey v. Solesky, which Kramer calls “ill-conceived.”
In that case, the court ruled that after a pit bull attacked a Baltimore County 10-year-old, the landlord on whose property the dog lived should be held liable, because pit bulls are “inherently dangerous.” During a special session last summer and all through this year’s regular session, legislators tried, but failed, to reach an agreement about who is liable and when after dog attacks.
“I don’t think we can leave this hanging out there indefinitely,” Kramer said.
Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for O’Malley, said that the governor would consider Kramer’s request for a special session once he received it.
Animal advocates said this has set off a reaction from landlords, who are demanding their tenants either give up their pet pit bulls or move. Shelters are seeing an influx of pit bulls, Kramer said.
“[Landlords] are telling their tenants, ‘Either your family goes, or you go,’” Kramer said. “We’re seeing the shelters overrun with loving family pets, and they’re being euthanized.”
To stem the tide of pit bulls being brought to shelters, Kramer is suggesting that the General Assembly convene for one day to pass a bill that would return landlords to their pre-decision standard for liability. Lawmakers have all agreed that a landlord should not be held strictly liable in cases where a pit bull attacks, but could not come to a consensus about whether dog owners should be held strictly liable or not.
But for leadership tired after two special sessions in the summer of 2012, a special session is unlikely.
“A special session is going to be a challenge,” Kramer said. “But I think we could be in and out of Annapolis in a matter of hours.”
Even animal advocates concede that a special session for pit bulls is a tough sell.
“We think a special session seems unrealistic at this point,” said Raúl Arce-Contreras, a spokesman for The Humane Society of the United States. “We are, of course, still looking at all the options and working with Maryland animal advocates and legislators on a path forward.”