Pets trapped in hot cars are one step closer to cool relief.
On Monday, the California State Senate unanimously passed Assembly Bill 797. The bill, introduced by Assemblymen Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would protect citizens from criminal and civil penalties if they free an animal inside a vehicle from the threat of immediate danger, as long as they then turn the animal over to law enforcement, animal control or other emergency personnel responding to the incident.
Hundreds of pets die inside parked vehicles each year, as temperatures inside spike to far above outside temperatures. (Studies have shown that leaving the windows open a crack only makes a difference of a few degrees.)
Leaving an animal (or child) inside such a car is a crime under current California law, but only police officers, humane officers and animal-control officers are allowed to break out animals that appears to be in immediate danger when trapped inside a vehicle.
“The Right to Rescue Act will save lives,” said Steinorth in a news release issued Monday. “In an emergency, good Samaritans should be confident that they won’t be sued for taking heroic actions to rescue a pet. We hope this never has to happen; this effort is also about spreading awareness of the danger of hot cars, and that leaving your pet in harmful conditions is already illegal.”
Before animal-lovers can begin breaking windows, though, the bill requires them to first call law enforcement and give them a chance to respond. But if the animal is in imminent danger, the vehicle is locked and law enforcement will not arrive in time, the bill protects members of the public from criminal or civil liability who damage a vehicle in order to rescue an animal inside and remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives.
“I am proud to be working on this bipartisan effort to end inhumane animal deaths,” Santiago is quoted as saying in the press release. “As Assemblymember Steinorth and I both came to understand earlier this year, it is unbearable to sit in a hot car, especially for our pets. AB 797 allows Good Samaritans to safely and carefully rescue animals trapped in hot cars without fear of prosecution.”
AB 797 was inspired by a similar law passed in 2015 in Tennessee.
In April, Steinorth and Assemblywomen Ling Ling Chang, R-Brea, and Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, spent 21 minutes inside a four-door sedan with its windows rolled up to promote the bill. With an outside temperature of 90 degrees, the temperature inside had risen to 108 degrees.
An earlier version of AB 797 was approved by the Assembly in a 77-0 vote back on April 30, but the version the Senate approved on Monday is different enough that it’s now heading back to the Assembly to go through the entire process in that house once again. The Assembly has to vote on the bill by Aug. 31 in order or the process will have to start all over again in January.
Assuming the bill passes the Assembly once again, Gov. Jerry Brown then has to sign the bill by Sept. 30 in order to become law on Jan. 1.
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Story By Beau Yarbrough | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Beau covers education and politics for The Sun and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Reach the author at email@example.com or follow Beau on Twitter: @lby3.