RI bill to allow service animals at homeless shelters

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — The General Assembly recently passed legislation introduced by Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton) and Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton) that will prohibit homeless shelters from refusing people with service animals.

The bill (2018-S 21332018-H 7615) amends the Homeless Bill of Rights to protect homeless persons in possession of a service animal, as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act from being denied access to any homeless shelter in violation of the ADA or the state or federal Fair Housing Practices Acts.

“If a homeless person is seeking shelter, they should never be denied because of a service animal,” said Senator Seveney. “Allowing service animals into businesses is a long-established practice and part of federal law; we now want to codify this into state law so that no homeless person has to go without shelter simply because they possess a service dog.”

The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

“There was actually an incident during one of our many blizzards where a homeless person with a service dog was denied access to a shelter,” said Representative Canario. “This legislation will ensure that incidents like that never happen again.”

The measure now moves to the governor’s office. 

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