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House bill would prohibit insurers from charging higher premiums based on dog breeds

An Arizona House panel approved a measure that would prohibit insurers from charging higher premiums for homeowners or renters with certain dog breeds.

House Bill 2323, sponsored by Fountain Hills Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, would stop insurers from classifying some dogs, such as pit bulls, as part of an “aggressive” breed. His bill was supported by various animal welfare advocates, including Michelle Simpson, an attorney who volunteers at animal shelters and pet rescue centers, including one devoted to pit bulls.

"Arizonans do not want insurance companies telling them what kind of pet they can have," she said.

Simpson said shelters have an "incredible overpopulation" of pets, with more than 30,000 a year going through Maricopa County alone each year.

"A majority of those pets are those that would be excluded by these insurance policies," she told the committee. "And, therefore, these pets are at risk of euthanasia every day."

Wednesday's 10-3 vote came over the objections of insurance industry lobbyists who said that the pricing differences are justified. 

"If you have a larger breed dog with a larger jaw, they are going to do more damage," Wendy Briggs of the American Property and Casualty Insurance Association testified. "There are many medical journal studies that demonstrate that."

Kavanagh said that would only make sense if insurers charged liability premiums based on the weight of the animal.

"But why is a German shepherd being charged more and not a collie?" Kavanagh said. "That kind of throws your argument out the window."

Rep. John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) said the higher premiums charged for certain larger dogs is based on a mistaken assumption about how they are more aggressive. That point was echoed by Rep. Alma Hernandez (D-Tucson) who owns dogs of varying sizes.

"I would say that my chihuahuas are probably more aggressive than my large dogs," she said. "I just want to caution that when we're talking about the type of breed of animals, a lot of times its how the people that trained the animals, or the owners, that makes the dogs act the way that they do."

But Rep. Teresa Martinez (R-Casa Grande) said the legislation ignores the reality that not all dog breeds are the same.

"We're not using poodles and chihuahuas for police dogs," she said, even with chihuahuas generally being more aggressive.

Conversely, she said, that's why police use German shepherds.

"Inherently, DNA, they are more disciplined and they are easier to control and they have intimidating features," Martinez said.

Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) also voted against the measure. He said the record shows that the owners of these larger dogs have other options for insurance if their own carrier wants to raise their rates or cancel their coverage.

The measure now needs approval of the full House.

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