Michigan Senate OKs allowing dogs on restaurant patios

LANSING, Mich. — Restaurant and bar patrons could sit with their dogs in outdoor eating areas as long as businesses authorize it and local municipalities do not object under legislation advancing in Michigan.

The Senate voted 32-6 in bipartisan fashion Wednesday to send the bill to the House, where a similar measure died last year. State law generally prohibits live animals at restaurants, but the legislation would allow dogs if they pose no health or safety hazards.

Under the bill, dogs would have to be leashed and could not pass through a restaurant’s interior or sit in chairs or on customers’ laps. Patios would have to be free of dog hair, and surfaces contaminated by dog waste would have to be immediately disinfected.

The legislation would not require restaurants to allow dogs, and local governments could pass ordinances prohibiting dogs on restaurant patios or making more restrictive rules than the state.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Margaret O’Brien of Portage, noted Michigan was “a great tourist state.”

“If you talk to a lot of people who travel the country and even Michigan, we have hotels that allow dogs in there, you’ve got dog parks, we have dog drinking foundations. But there’s nowhere for tourists to enjoy any kind of fine dining or any of our great breweries with their pet,” O’Brien said.

Republican Sen. Darwin Booher of Evart was among the senators to vote no. He said he would not want to see dog feces, customers sharing food with their pets or dogs fighting with each other.

“I have problems with that, and I’m flat-out against it,” he said.

Booher noted he loves dogs, but said he worried that the potential for problems would increase if dogs were brought into contact with more people in such a setting as a restaurant.

“When we’re having dinner and we want to have it outside, we shouldn’t have to worry,” he said.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which is responsible for food safety, is neutral on the bill. So is the Michigan Restaurant Association, the industry group for nearly 4,500 food-service establishments.

Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for the agriculture agency, said restaurant owners already can ask their local health department to allow dogs on patios. The state is working on a model ordinance that communities could consider when weighing whether to grant a variance, she said.

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