Under Nebraska’s civil rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other places that are open to the public. Nebraska law is more limited than federal law, because it covers only animals that assist the physically disabled, not animals that assist those with mental disabilities. However, public accommodations (and landlords) in Nebraska must comply with both state and federal laws.
Below, we explain which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.
Under Nebraska’s civil rights law, people with certain disabilities are entitled to be accompanied by their service animals in public accommodations, as defined below. Nebraska law defines service animals as a guide dog, signal dog (hearign dog), or other animal trained to do tasks or work to benefit someone with a disability. However, the civil rights law also limits its public accommodation protections to those who use a service animal for deafness or hearing impairment, blindness or visual impairment, or another physical disability. The law does not cover those who use service animals for mental disabilities.
Under the ADA, on the other hand, a service animal is a dog that has been trained to perform disability-related tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability. In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:
Neither the ADA nor Nebraska’s civil rights law covers what some people call “emotional support animals”: animals whose presence provides a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers, nor are they specially trained to assist a particular person who is visually impaired, is hearing impaired, or has another physical disability. Pets are also not covered by either state or federal law.
Under Nebraska law, service animals must be allowed in all hotels and other lodging places; all places of public amusement, resort, or accommodation; all common carriers, types of transportation, and public conveyances (including buses, taxis, trains, boats, and so on); and all places to which the public is invited.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is equally broad. Religious entities, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, however, are not considered public accommodations under the ADA. This is so even if the religious entity offers secular services, such as a day-care center that admits children whether or not they are members of or affiliated with the religious institution. Private clubs (member-controlled nonprofit groups that are highly selective, charge substantial membership fees, and were not created in order to avoid compliance with civil rights laws) are also not covered by the ADA. However, if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it is subject to the ADA’s public accommodation rules as to those facilities.
Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, or other proof of your animal’s training or status. If it is not apparent what your service animal does, the establishment may ask you only whether it is a service animal, and what tasks it performs for you.
The ADA and Nebraska law prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.
The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out). Your animal may also be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it. You are still entitled to enter the public accommodation even if your service animal is not allowed in.
Nebraska’s civil rights law gives those who use a service animal the right to equal, full access to housing accommodations. Landlords and other who charge for housing may not require people who use service animals to pay extra or to provide an additional deposit for their animals. However, like the state’s public accommodations law, the housing discrimination law applies only to those who use a service animal for blindness or visual impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, or another physical disability. It does not cover those who use a service animal for a mental disability.
The federal Fair Housing Act, on the other hand, prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals for physical or mental disabilities. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and may not be charged extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a “no pets” provision, it does not apply to your service animal.
Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidance on service animals.)