(a) For purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
(1) ACTIVE MEMBER. Therapy dog teams who have had recorded visits at facilities including hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, and extended care facilities in the past 18 months.
(2) REGISTERED HANDLER. A volunteer registered by the court system as a therapy dog handler who has not been convicted of sexual, animal, or domestic abuse or any felony, who has been registered by a qualifying therapy dog organization, and has taken an oath of confidentiality. An officer of the court may be a handler only if there is no expense to the state.
(3) REGISTERED THERAPY DOG. a. A trained emotional support dog that has been tested and registered by a nonprofit therapy dog organization that sets standards and requirements for the health, welfare, task work, and oversight for therapy dogs and their handlers, including at a minimum, all of the following:
1. A current annual certificate of health from an Alabama veterinarian on a form designed by the nonprofit therapy dog organization.
2. Markings identifying the dog as a therapy dog while working.
3. An identification card or badge to be prominently displayed on the handler.
4. A minimum of 18 months of recorded visits in institutions such as hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes providing therapy and emotional support to people of all ages, and must have passed a test administered by a nonprofit therapy dog organization demonstrating the dog and handler are qualified to access public buildings and interact with the public.
5. Proof of liability insurance in the minimum amount of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) for each therapy dog working in the court system which may be provided through a nonprofit therapy dog organization.
b. Notwithstanding the requirements of paragraph a., a handler with a dog having the appropriate temperament may be tested by a certified Alabama law enforcement canine officer with a minimum of two years' experience for the ability to be registered as a therapy dog for use in certain legal proceedings.
(4) THERAPY DOG ORGANIZATION. A nationally registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit therapy dog organization that has been continuously active for a minimum of three years as a therapy dog organization with at least 100 active therapy dog teams nationwide and with active members in Alabama.
(b) In a legal proceeding, to reduce the stress of the witness and to enhance the ability of the court to obtain full and accurate testimony, the court may allow a registered therapy dog to accompany a victim or witness while testifying, or in other court proceedings if a registered therapy dog is available.
(c) If the court, in its sole discretion, grants the use of a registered therapy dog, the registered therapy dog shall be accompanied by a registered handler who has received instruction from the district attorney's office on the protocols and policies of legal proceedings for that circuit and the role of the registered therapy dog and registered handler to assure there is no interference with the collection of evidence and testimony or the administration of justice.
(d) If a jury has been empaneled in the legal proceeding, the registered therapy dog shall be accompanied by the registered handler to the witness stand with the witness outside of the presence of the jury and the registered handler shall return to his or her position in the courtroom within view of the witness stand. Subsequently, the jury shall be seated and the court shall inform the jury of the presence of the registered therapy dog and instruct the jury that the presence of a registered therapy dog should not create any prejudice to any party.
(e) During trial proceedings all precautions should be taken to obscure the presence of a registered therapy dog from the jury.
(f) Markings identifying the dog as a registered therapy dog while working must be visible.
(g) Subject to the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, if requested by either party in a legal proceeding, the court may examine and confirm the credentials of the registered therapy dog and registered handler.
(h) Registered therapy dogs and handlers shall not be dismissed from any therapy dog organization for following the rules and procedures in this section or those set by the court.
(i) Prior to the use of a registered therapy dog in a court proceeding the state or moving party must file a notice of intent to use the registered therapy dog.
(j) A judge may award costs from the judge's discretionary fund to the registered handler to offset some of the financial cost of using the dog in legal proceedings.