Tue, July 23

Lawmakers wants immunity for people who break into hot cars to rescue pets, kids

PHOENIX -- Saying good Samaritans deserve legal protection, a veteran state lawmaker wants to provide immunity from lawsuits for people who break into hot vehicles to rescue a trapped animal.

And kids, too.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he was approached by the founder of Don't Leave Me, an organization that tries to protect pets whose owners have left them behind in the car. He said that Debra Nolen, whose activities so far have involved things like public service announcements, wanted legislation to allow bystanders to do more than call the police.

Kavanagh, who has been an animal-rights advocate, agreed to sponsor the legislation spelling out there is no civil liability for those who act in good faith.

"They already provide exemptions for first responders and emergency services people, but not ordinary people,'' he noted.

"Usually, it's the ordinary people who stumble upon these things first,'' Kavanagh continued. "So it seemed reasonable to provide a blanket coverage as long as the person acts reasonable.''

Kavanagh noted that Nolen was pushing for protection for animals. But he figured that, given similar situations that occur with children, they, too, should be included within the legislation.

"Both situations are important,'' he said.

As crafted, SB 1001 require a "good faith belief'' that the child or animal is "in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death'' unless removed from the vehicle.

But that, by itself, is not enough.

Before breaking in, the person would have to notify authorities, whether police, emergency medical services or animal control. And then the person has to remain with the child or animal rescued until help arrives.

Nolen said the idea originally started as a public service class project when she was teaching health ethics at Chandler Gilbert Community College. It resulted in some public service announcements, a web site and even distribution of a chart to translate the outside air temperature to how hot it gets in a vehicle.

And it was the result of one of those PSAs with Fountain Hills Mayor Linda Kavanagh that Nolen connected with her husband.

A report by Jan Null with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University showed that 39 children had died of heat stroke through October this year. That compares with 24 for all of 2015.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says "hundreds'' of pets die each year from heat exhaustion because they are left in park vehicles.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia