State Legislative Updates - 2008 Year-end Summary

American Veterinary Medical Association
Communications Division
State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department

December 24, 2008

View year-end summary (PDF)

2008 was another eventful year for veterinary medicine in state capitols. Several issues continued to dominate animal-related legislative agendas, including scope of practice issues, potential non-economic damage allowances, several animal welfare issues, and most recently, proposed taxes on veterinary services.

States continued the post-Michael Vick conviction push to increase penalties for animal cruelty and expand its definition to include additional acts. Legislatures in several states passed measures regulating living conditions in commercial kennels and limiting the number of dogs and cats that can be maintained at one facility. After much debate and negotiation, the Pennsylvania legislature approved a new law which provides minimum standards for dog kennels.

States and local governments are increasingly considering ways to encourage or mandate sterilization of pets. Most recently, Colorado passed a bill requiring dogs and cats to be sterilized before adoption from animal shelters and rescues, and the city of Los Angeles enacted an ordinance requiring most dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered by the age of four months.

Farm housing practices continue to generate interest and controversy. After a highly-publicized battle, California voters approved Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, with 63% of the vote. It requires that by 2015, egg-laying hens, veal calves and pregnant sows have room enough to lie down, stand, turn around, and fully extend their limbs. The proposition primarily targeted egg producers in the state. Colorado's legislature adopted a similar bill concerning calves raised for veal and gestation sows.

Several states this year introduced legislation to allow for the recovery of non-economic damages in actions alleging veterinary negligence. None of these bills ever reached final adoption and Illinois and Tennessee continue to be the only states that allow for the recovery of non-economic damages, in limited cases involving intentional conduct.

States did adopt several measures regulating veterinary prescription drugs and controlled substances, much of it through regulations issued by various state agencies. Most notably, Arizona, Alaska, New Jersey and Kentucky were added to the growing list of states that have programs monitoring controlled substances. A Kansas task force was authorized to study whether prescription monitoring programs should apply to veterinarians dispensing drugs, and if so, how to structure such a program.

States also addressed various scope of practice issues. Several legislatures adopted laws which allow non-veterinarians to perform certain procedures such as animal massage, animal chiropractic and animal dentistry. All of these bills, however, require some sort of veterinary supervision. Oklahoma increased the penalty for practicing veterinary medicine without a license from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Washington and Wyoming approved new laws providing some type of loan repayment assistance to veterinarians who agree to practice in large-animal veterinary medicine. In addition, Ohio, Missouri and Wyoming promulgated regulations to begin implementing such programs.

California Governor Schwarzenegger recently introduced a budget proposal that would include a tax on veterinary services for the first time. Currently only three states, Hawaii, New Mexico and South Dakota, collect taxes on veterinary medical services.

This summer, the AVMA officially launched a pilot program of veterinary outreach to law schools and the legal community to explain the veterinary perspective on animal law issues such as non-economic damages and guardianship. We have developed a group of approximately 20 speakers who are veterinarians, lawyers, or both. In 2008, we presented at the University of Wisconsin Law School, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Colorado Bar Association, and are in the process of setting up additional presentations at several law schools this coming spring. The completed presentations have been successful and have generated robust discussions and insightful feedback. We look forward to expanding the program this spring and we anticipate continued success.

2008 was an election year, and in November, 79% of all state legislative seats in the U.S were up for election. Twelve veterinarians won re-election to their state legislatures, while Dr. Steve Abrams, Kan. and Dr. Dan Brown, Mo. won election to their state legislatures for the first time.

Three veterinarians lost in the general election and Dr. Robert Jackman, Ind., Dr. Bob Bastian, Pa. and Dr. Shawn Webster, Ohio retired or did not run due to term limits. Dr. Kurt Schrader left the Oregon Senate to win election to Congress and thus become the sole veterinarian in the U.S. House. As a result, 22 veterinarians will be serving in state legislatures at the beginning of 2009.

There is no shortage of veterinary issues arising in states throughout the country. In 2008, the AVMA Department of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs has tracked over 3,000 measures and distributed 825 legislative and regulatory alerts to state veterinary medical associations.

A Look at the Year Ahead

2009 promises to bring its own set of challenges for state and local veterinary advocates. Scores of new legislators, new leaders, and significant economic pressure will combine to change the landscape in every capitol and make advocacy more unpredictable. As the economic downturn continues, states may try to increase revenue by taxing veterinary services and drugs. State funding for projects such as subsidized spay/neuter, animal control and loan repayment may dry up, and even enforcement of veterinary state board regulations may be affected adversely.

Many of the issues from past sessions are sure to return, such as animal welfare, scope of practice, and hopefully more bills that provide for loan repayment for large-animal veterinarians. Some states may consider laws providing for the recovery of non-economic damages, while appellate courts in Vermont and California are expected to issue closely-watched decisions on that topic.

We will also be watching the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on the request from the Department of Justice to reverse the decision of an appeals court that found as unconstitutional a federal law banning the sale of depictions of animals being tortured.

All states are scheduled to meet in 2009. Except for New Jersey and Virginia, bills will not carry over from the 2008 session to 2009.

In 2009, the AVMA will continue to track all of this activity carefully and respond in partnership with state veterinary medical associations. In addition, the AVMA will host a third state public policy symposium on November 7-8, 2009 in Tampa, Fla. The theme is "exploring strategies and overcoming challenges in state and local advocacy." The event will feature workshops designed to gain a deeper understanding of emerging policy issues. Registration will open in Aug. 2009 at www.avma.org.

The following is a summary, by topics and subtopics, of several key animal and veterinary-related issues that arose in 2008. We have included both "adopted" measures, those that were signed into law or received final regulatory approval, as well as some of the most significant bills and regulatory proposals that were introduced but not adopted into law. For a more detailed analysis on any of these topics, please contact the AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department.

View year-end summary (PDF)