Illinois Good Samaritan bill would let citizens rescue pets from hot cars

Q&A with Marc Ayers, Humane Society of the U.S. Illinois State Director

Every summer brings with it the heartbreaking and all too common reports of infants and pets perishing inside hot vehicles. Thirteen states have passed “Good Samaritan” laws that allow citizens to break into a locked vehicle if they witness an animal inside that appears to be in distress and time is critical. These laws grant a person immunity from criminal and civil liability, usually so long as the person contacts law enforcement and remains at the scene. Some of these laws include children as well as pets.

Several Good Samaritan bills in the Illinois General Assembly would add Illinois to that list. House Bill 4191which is now in the state senate, would provide criminal and civil exemption for rescuing animals confined in motor vehicles. It would amend the state’s Humane Care for Animals Act to provide that “a person is immune from criminal liability for criminal damage to property and criminal trespass to vehicles resulting from his or her forcible entry into a vehicle and from civil liability for property damage” if they have a good faith belief that forcible entry is necessary to save a dog or cat’s life because the pet appears in imminent danger and they make a good faith effort to call 911 or contact authorities.

Senate Bill 2277 is largely identical to HB4191, while Senate Bill 2294 would do the same but also includes “vulnerable” persons.

As is always the case with legislation concerning animals, the bills are not without controversy, and some groups, including kennel clubs, the state Veterinary Medical Association and the Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources, oppose HB4191 over fears of potential crime or harm to the pet, or other reasons. Proponents include DuPage County Animal Care and Control, Best Friends Animal Society and various local humane societies.

I asked HSUS Illinois State Director Marc Ayers, whose organization advocates for such laws, why they are needed:

A: Close to a dozen states have passed a Good Samaritan law, most recently Kansas. Around two dozen states have some form of a “hot car” law, Illinois included (510 ILCS 70/7.1), but many are passing these Good Samaritan bills. They remove the sense of urgency for law enforcement and animal control to arrive to a scene that’s a matter of life or death, and where seconds matter. In all states, law enforcement and animal control still have to respond after the rescue, so we’re not removing them from the equation at all.

Q: What is the current status of the various house and senate bills?

A: HB4191 was the main vehicle used for negotiations so that’s what moved in the General Assembly. There was a senate version that was identical but we decided to focus efforts on one bill instead of two. There was also a senate bill under Sen. Morrison, but it included “vulnerable populations” like kids or elderly, where our bills were narrowed to companion animals.

HB4191 was a bill that we worked closely with the Will and DuPage County State’s Attorneys on and they wanted to keep it restricted to pets since that’s what most states have done. [Adding children] is something we’ll look at including over the summer/fall for when we try to reintroduce it this fall in veto session.

Q: Who is opposed to the bill and what are their reasons?

A: Illinois Animal Control Association and the Illinois Federation of Dog Clubs and Owners. Both groups were opposing for largely hypothetical reasons. What if the dog bites a rescuer, what if the dog runs away after the rescue and gets hit by a car, what if the dog isn’t in distress? What if [the rescuer] steals the dog? Some of the reasons got very odd and had no bearing on the bill itself. Many of these [issues] were already addressed but they still opposed.

Q: What are the chances of it being passed, and when?

A: We will continue to work with bill sponsors and stakeholders to get a bill that everyone can support. I think it still stands a good chance of passing. Despite the current opposition, it passed the House with 78 votes before getting stuck in the Senate.

Q:  What can people who want to support the bill do to help?

Contact their Illinois representative and senator and urge them to support and cosponsor HB4191.

This General Assembly page can help you find names and contact information of your state representatives.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund  provides an overview of the states that currently have Good Samaritan laws and those that have legislation pending.

According to ALDF, even in states without such laws on the books, persons who break into vehicles to rescue pets in danger are rarely prosecuted or convicted, although they may still be held liable for civil damages.

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