Emotional Assistance Animal Legislation Introduced

Emotional Assistance Animal Legislation

House Bill 16-1201 has been introduced. It would require licensed medical professionals to meet with a patient and determine the need for emotional support animals.  These licensed professionals include physicians, physician assistants, anesthesiologist assistants, nurses, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, ESA - emotional assistance animal professional counselors and addiction counselors.  Before granting permission for an emotional support animal, the licensed professional would be required to determine if:

  • the individual making the request has a disability (as defined by Colorado law);
  • or there is insufficient information available to make a finding regarding a disability.

The bill also provides that a licensee is prohibited from making a determination unless the license has met with the patient in person.

In addition to state law, there are also federal laws regarding fair housing.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD) issued guidance concerning interpretation and execution of the federal Fair Housing Act.   HUD has stated that housing providers may ask for documentation of a disability if:

  • the disability is not readily apparent;
  • or the disability is apparent, but the disability-related need for an assistance animal is not apparent.

A HUD Memorandum dated April 25, 2013 (FHEO-2013-01) provides an example of documentation to support an application for an emotional support animal:

For example, the housing provider may ask persons who are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal that provides emotional support to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability.

Under Colorado law physicians, psychiatrist and social workers are all required to be licensed.  Therefore, presumably, associations would be able to require documentation from one of these sources when the request is for an emotional support animal.  While there remains no guarantee that these professionals will not provide a “finding” that is minimal, at least the professional would have to have met with the patient in person, thus perhaps eliminating the out-of-state internet providers who provide a certification for a need for an emotional support animal upon completion of a “test” and a telephone call.

At this point, it is not clear whether or not this bill will become law. It is interesting to see that our legislature is paying attention to the public discussion about abuse of the state and federal Fair Housing Acts concerning emotional support animals.

We will update this information as the bill proceeds through the legislative process.

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