The fate of the pit bull legislation before the Maryland General Assembly remains uncertain as bills in the House and Senate appear headed in different directions.
The split is over strict liability for dog owners. The bill passed by the Senate Friday night in a 41-1 vote includes strict liability with a few carved out exceptions for things like provocation and trespassing.
Just down the street the House Judiciary Committee spent the better part of the afternoon with four different bills that would—at least in part—return owner liability to common law standards.
Sen. Joseph Getty, a Republican who represents Carroll County and northern Baltimore County, was the lone vote against the Senate bill.
"[Strict liability] sets a very high standard that is improper," said Getty, following the Friday vote, adding that the bill as passed "shifts the burden to dog owners to prove they have a defense.
"It all means insurance rates will go up under strict liability," he said.
Getty said the future of the Senate bill as well as four other pit bull related bills is less certain in the House.
"That bill is going to take a different path," said Getty, speaking of the House debate and vote scheduled for Monday.
That path was articulated by Del. Luiz Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, who repeatedly voiced his concern that insurance companies would jack up the rates for all dog owners if strict liability passed.
“Shouldn’t owners be responsible when he or she was negligent, not when he or she is not negligent,” Simmons said. “Why would you equate the negligent owner with the non-negligent owner?”
Simmons likened liability to car accidents, which also can have tragic outcomes. He said if strict liability was given to any person injured in an automobile accident “the structure would collapse.”
Del. Benjamin Kramer railed against anyone who offered the strict liability laws present in more than 35 other states as an argument for why Maryland should follow suit. The Montgomery County Democrat argued that each of the 35 with strict liability implement it differently, and the compressed timeline of the special session didn't allow for a nuanced debate on the issue.
He offered two bills for consideration. One would allow for strict liability to be applied only in certain instances that resulted in severe injury or death. The other Kramer bill would simply roll the clock back to common law liability as it stood on Jan. 1, 2012.
Even with an extended timeline Kramer seemed staunchly in the no category on strict liability for owners.
"Do you think the insurance companies are just going to sit back and not respond to this kind of sea change?" Krammer asked. "Folks like me, who are sure to be on that no coverage list, are going to be in the situation where we lose our homeowners insurance or we lose our pet."
If the House Judiciary Committee votes out a bill on Monday without strict liability, the two chambers could attempt to come together in a conference committee. But Democratic Sen. Brian Frosh, who sponsored the Senate bill, said that seems unlikely.
“This is the best we could do. So, we thought OK, we will give it a shot to get it done in this truncated environment," Frosh said. “If it gets real twisted and complex, I think it will probably unravel because nobody is planning to spend next week here."
Political Reporter Bryan P. Sears contributed to this article.