By DAVID ROYSE (Associated Press Writer)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Some Florida cities would like to throw a dog a bone - or maybe a burger and some fries. Dogs would be able to sit with humans at outdoor restaurant tables in some communities under a measure advancing in the Florida Legislature.
The bill, approved by a House committee Wednesday, would create a three-year test program to allow cities to grant restaurants that want to host dogs special permission to do so under certain conditions.
Rep. Sheri McInvale, an Orlando Republican, filed the bill after some restaurant owners complained because they were threatened with fines for allowing doggy dining. The city supports the proposal.
"We are getting a renaissance downtown," said Kathy Russell, Orlando's director of government relations. "We've got designer restaurants and designer dogs, and (people) would like to have a designer cup of coffee with their designer dog."
Dogs would only be allowed to dine at outside tables under the plan. No restaurant would be required to let the dogs in, and cities would not be required to offer the variance from the law that normally bars canines. The dogs also would have to be on leashes.
But some say giving Fido a seat at the table raises serious questions. The issue of dog bites may be a concern for individual restaurant owners, McInvale said. The bill would require restaurants to have $1 million worth of liability insurance to be eligible to be exempted from the law.
"Everybody's not a dog person, and some people are afraid of dogs," said Rep. Terry Fields, a Democrat.
Tiffany Hickem, who shuttles her 9-month-old shelty Delaney between her home in Delray Beach and Gainesville where Hickem is a student at the University of Florida, would love to take the puppy to restaurants.
It would mean fewer hours Delaney would have to hang out at home all alone.
"Anytime I can take her out and do something with her, even if it's while I'm doing something, it gives her a chance get a little more socialized," Hickem said.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is against the bill because different restaurants will have to follow different laws depending on what city they're in. The restaurant lobby probably won't howl too loudly about the proposal, though.
"Our membership is somewhat split on this," said the FRLA's general counsel, Richard Turner, who, for the record, has a puppy at home.
The bill has one more committee stop to make before it can go to the full House for a vote. A similar measure is awaiting Senate committee hearings. Some lawmakers still have questions - albeit humorous ones.
"Does it mean if we pass this bill, it would eliminate doggy bags?" asked Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami.