HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The state health department opposes a bill being supported by Gov. Neil Abercrombie that would allow people to bring their dogs to restaurants statewide.
Restaurant owners or managers would be able to choose whether to allow dogs in their establishments under the proposal that had a hearing Tuesday before the State House health committee. The measure would require a dog to remain on a leash, on the floor next to their owner and it would prohibit the dog from relieving itself or otherwise disturbing restaurant patrons.
Dog owner Willow Chang, who was at the Diamond Head bark park with her dogs Tuesday afternoon, supports the measure.
"I personally think it's a great idea," Chang said. "I can understand that some people will be concerned about it. But I think that the guidelines are really clear and it really encourages the owners to have responsibility with their dogs."
Abercrombie, who owns a dog named Kanoa, is a dog lover who, while not formally lobbying lawmakers for the bill, does support it, according to spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz.
Sources at the legislature told Hawaii News Now Abercrombie has personally asked legislative leaders to pass the proposal, in what was described as "casual lobbying."
But officials at the state health department are against it, saying the bill conflicts with state and federal health regulations, which prohibit animals in restaurants because they can carry disease.
The department was concerned that the bill "does not address public health concerns," said State Health Director Loretta Fuddy in written remarks prepared for testimony at Tuesday's hearing.
If the lawmakers want to pass the proposal, Fuddy recommended restaurants have "specific cleaning, and disinfection mitigation measures to deal with animal feces and urine, waste, saliva, vomit and other animal fluids."
She said food establishments must also demonstrate how animal waste will be prevented from being tracked into food prep areas by employees.
And Fuddy recommended a restaurant allowing dogs post a sign that said, "Dogs are allowed in this establishment and may place you at greater risk of contracting a food borne illness."
State Rep. Ryan Yamane, who chairs the State House health committee, said the panel advanced the bill Tuesday after adding suggested language from the health department. The proposal was sent to the State House judiciary committee for further consideration, he said.
Asked if he predicted the proposal has any chance of passing the legislature this year, Yamane said "it has a long way to go."
"I know the bill is of personal value to the governor and his wife," Yamane said, when a reporter asked if he was familiar with Abercrombie's interest in the measure.
Chef Sean Priester, owner of Soul Restaurant in Kaimuki, said he allows dogs on the outside lanai of his restaurant, but would not allow them inside if the law passed.
"I won't say that I'm completely against it, but I don't feel completely comfortable with it right now," Priester said. "It provides another interference in the way that we deliver service. Not everybody is compatible with dogs. I know having kids, sometimes dogs can scare them as well."
Roger Morey, executive director of the 800-member Hawaii Restaurant Association, said the trade group has no formal position on the proposal.
"Whichever way we go, we'll be in the dog house," Morey joked.
Morey said his members are glad the proposal gives restaurants the flexibility to allow or ban dogs, but said many Hawaii eateries are tight on space and some owners are concerned about how the proposal would be policed.
Kim Kesner, of Hawaii Loa Ridge, was walking her dog along Diamond Head Road Tuesday afternoon and said she supported the proposal.
"I think if the dog owner is responsible, they're going know if their dog can handle behaving in that kind of environment. Just as they can go into pet stores and they're not going to start a dog fight," Kenser said.
But Kenser said said she would not take advantage of the law if it passes, because her two and a half year old dog Johnny wouldn't do well in restaurants.
"He doesn't behave. So I wouldn't have a relaxing dinner. So no, I'm responsible and selfish. I want to enjoy my dinner," she said.
The proposal would also require restaurants that allow dogs to have a prominent sign warning customers that dogs would be sharing their dining space.