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Senate panel advances bill to grant immunity to those who break into hot cars to rescue dogs

Legislation to grant immunity to people who break into a hot car to rescue a pet that’s suffering has cleared a Senate committee, though senators sent it to their amending order to make a series of changes. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard this afternoon that hundreds of dogs are being left in hot cars in Idaho each year; some die, and some suffer irreversible brain damage.

“In the past 12 months we have responded to 230 calls for dogs in hot cars,” Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO of the Idaho Humane Society in Boise, told the senators. “We don’t always show up on time, unfortunately. So we support this bill. Heat stroke, I can tell you as a veterinarian, is insidious, it can happen very quickly.” The calls start coming in early in the spring, he said.

Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, said, “The bad effects can happen so fast. … Other states have faced the same issue and come to the conclusion that this is a way to encourage people not to have their dogs at risk, and to keep people who would like to help to not hesitate when it’s reasonably necessary.”

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, a former police officer, told Nye, “Your heart’s in the right place, and I understand and I appreciate that. But … it could be stated that we have no need for this new law because we have a system in place which involves calling the police.”

But Foreman cast the only vote against moving the bill, SB 1244, to the amending order.

 “This is a piece of legislation that we all desperately want to support, that’s my observation,” said Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley. “So there appears to be the need at least to parse through some of the language to make sure that it’s right and it’s an effective statute when it gets there.”  

Several committee members said the bill should require people to call law enforcement before breaking into a car, and raised other concerns about the wording. Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, raised concerns about whether a vindictive ex-wife could get immunity for smashing up her husband’s Jeep with a baseball bat under the pretext of getting to the dog inside. Nye said he thought a “good faith” provision in the bill would cover the situation Hagedorn outlined, but Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who like Nye is an attorney, said “The good faith seems to modify ‘belief’ as opposed to the conduct.” He said he thought “friendly amendments” were in order.

The same committee also sent to the amending order a similar bill from Nye covering not dogs, but people – which he said would cover situations in which a child is left in a hot car, and a passer-by breaks in to rescue the child.

“This bill is designed to save lives and protect those who are offering rescue,” Nye said. “It’s preventative, it’s to minimize and prevent injury and damage to our kids.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said the second bill, SB 1245, differed from the first in that it did appear to require a call to law enforcement first. “I would say you don’t necessarily need to call law enforcement if you see a kid in a car, to break the window,” Lakey said.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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