First responders who break into vehicles to rescue dogs or cats would get legal immunity under legislation introduced Thursday in the House Judiciary and Rules Committee.
A similar bill was introduced during the 2018 session, but died on the Senate floor. There were concerns it was too broad since it provided immunity to anyone who broke into a vehicle to save any unspecified pet.
The latest version of the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, applies specifically to first responders—defined as emergency medical personnel, firefighters, police and other law enforcement officers.
Also, immunity would only be provided in cases involving a cat or dog that was in peril.
According to the bill, the first responder must have "a reasonable, good faith belief that the dog or cat is in imminent danger of suffering death or serious bodily harm, and use no more force than reasonably necessary to gain entry."
If those conditions are met, the responder would be immune from civil lawsuits for any property damage caused during entry, and from criminal prosecution for entering the vehicle without a warrant.
"This concept has been passed in 19 states," Smith told the committee.
Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, voted against introducing the bill because it wasn't broad enough.
"My concern is that you're only talking about cats and dogs," he said. "Have you considered other types of animals? What about animals that are trapped in a barn that's on fire?"
Goesling suggested Smith expand the bill. By contrast, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, encouraged her to keep it as narrow as possible.
"Entry without a warrant is really what we're talking about here," Scott said. "To expand it to barns and buildings, I don't know where that could lead. If you don't want to open a can of worms, you may want to stick with the (narrow) scope of this bill and expand it later."
Now that it's introduced, the measure will come back to the committee for a public hearing.