Sen. Kelly Hancock’s take-a-dog-to-lunch bill, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law June 4, is another of the assaults against local government control that have become a habit for the Texas Legislature.
It’s not that Senate Bill 476 is bad in its effect, but it was unnecessary and outside the scope of what state-level officials should get involved in.
The bill, which goes into effect Sept. 1, will allow restaurant patrons to be accompanied by well-behaved, well-controlled dogs in outdoor dining areas such as patios and sidewalk cafés.
It doesn’t require restaurants to permit dogs in outdoor dining areas — but allows food service establishments statewide to do so if they choose.
But cities already could grant that right to the restaurants in their municipal jurisdictions.
While the Texas health codes generally prohibited dogs from being in restaurants and even in outdoor areas with patios, cities could allow it under their own ordinances.
In fact, SB 476, closely mirrors regulations on this issue local elected officials had approved in the city of Austin. It allows food service establishments to permit a customer to be accompanied by a dog in an outdoor dining area as long as: the establishment posts a sign stating that dogs are permitted; the dog doesn’t go inside the restaurant; the customer keeps the dog on a leash and under control; the dog isn’t allowed on top of chairs or tables; and no food preparation takes place in the outdoor area, according to Hancock’s office.
Most of what the bill does is shift the legal authority to regulate what happens on a city’s sidewalks and cafe patios from the city to the state of Texas.
The new law prohibits cities from adopting or enforcing any ordinance or rules that impose requirements on restaurants beyond the requirements outlined in the state law.
Not all restaurants and the like will choose to allow Fido to dine with his owner. Some eateries won’t want to deal with the compliance rules and complaints from customers who think dining with a dog is unsanitary or unsafe, which already had been the case in cities with local ordinances before Hancock’s bill passed.
However, the bill does ease regulations such as periodic fees, extra inspections and some other rules and regulations most cities have in place.
Allowing dog-friendly establishments might be a good thing for cities in Galveston County, although many people expressed opposition to the idea in the newspaper’s forums and letters section.
Before Senate Bill 476 passed, they might have had an opportunity to express that opposition in person at a city council meeting.
Supporters of the bill will argue that it grants the right of choice to business owners, but the actual fact of the matter is that business owners will be exercising a privilege. It’s just a privilege granted by the state rather than the city.
• Angela Wilson