State Legislative Updates - 2009 Year-end Summary

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

January 4, 2010

View year-end summary (PDF)

2009 was another busy year in state legislatures across the country. The AVMA State Legislative Department tracked over 5000 animal related bills this year. Below are some of the highlights.

  • Animal cruelty once again continues to dominate animal related legislative efforts as 8 states as well as the District of Columbia voted to modify and/or increase animal cruelty penalties and provisions while 15 states introduced but did not adopt similar legislation. Six states also adopted legislation to increase penalties for activities related to animal fighting while several other states attempted to pass similar legislation. States also continue to adopt laws that require veterinarians to report animal abuse.

  • Animal welfare issues are prominent in several state legislative agendas. Pennsylvania recently adopted a law prohibiting the debarking of a dog except when performed by a veterinarian using specific procedures. The bill also allows a veterinarian to remove a dog's tail between 5 days and 12 weeks of age if the procedure is medically necessary and it is done in accordance with generally accepted standards of veterinary practice. Finally, the bill prohibits the cutting off of the dewclaw of a dog over 5 days old unless such procedure is performed by a veterinarian. Several states also introduced legislation concerning the treatment and instruments that may be used on elephants.

  • States continue to address equine concerns following the closure of the US based horse processing facilities. A new law in Arizona requires the establishment and maintenance of a registry of equine rescue facilities and a public list of registered equine rescue facilities, and establishes rules for the registration of these facilities while a law recently adopted in Maine directs the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources to study equine husbandry practices in the state. In addition, several states adopted resolutions urging the U.S. Congress to support the continuation of horse processing in the United States. Finally, a new Montana law authorizes investor-owned equine slaughter or processing facilities and prohibits a court from granting an injunction to stop or delay the construction of an equine slaughter or processing facility based on legal challenges or appeals of a permit, license, certificate, or other approval issued in conjunction with environmental laws.

  • Hawaii and Nevada both adopted bills that place restrictions on tethering of animals including the instruments that may be used as well as the amount of time that an animal may be tethered. Several other states introduced, but did not adopt, similar legislation.

  • The District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana and Oregon all introduced bills that would prohibit the ownership of pit bulls while Pennsylvania introduced a bill that would allow a city or town to regulate the ownership of dogs that are deemed dangerous. Massachusetts introduced a similar bill that would actually allow a city or town to prohibit ownership of a specific breed of dog.

  • Arkansas, Louisiana, North Dakota and Oklahoma adopted the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act to provide for health and veterinary services in cases of declared emergencies and several other states adopted similar legislation to cover veterinarians who volunteer their services.

  • Regulating farm practices was a hot topic in several states this year. California passed a bill prohibiting the docking of tails of cattle and horses except under limited circumstances. A new Georgia law prohibits a political subdivision of a state from adopting or continuing in effect any ordinance, rule, regulation or resolution regulating the production of agricultural or farm products on any parcel of land five acres in size or greater. Beginning in 2011, Maine will prohibit, with limited exceptions, a person from tethering or confining a sow during gestation or a calf raised for veal for all or the majority of a day in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up and fully extending the animal's limbs, and turning around freely. Finally, a newly adopted law in Michigan requires that any pig during pregnancy, calf raised for veal, and egg-laying hen that is kept on a farm, must be housed so the animal can lie down, stand up and turn around freely. Producers and farmers will have three years to comply with the veal calf restrictions and 10 years to comply with the rules for pregnant sows and egg-laying hens.

  • In Ukiah, California, the city council dropped a controversial proposal to change the term pet "owner" to "owner/guardian" in its animal control ordinance and instead adopted a non-binding resolution to encourage residents to use the term "caretaker" when referring to pet owners. Similarly, in Missouri, a new law prohibits a political subdivision of the state and any local government, city our county from enacting any ordinance or promulgating or issuing any regulation, rule, policy, guidelines or proclamation describing the relationship between persons and domestic animals as anything other than persons may own or can own domestic animals.

  • States continue to adopt veterinary loan repayment programs for graduating veterinarians who choose to work in large animal medicine. This year, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas were added to the list making it 18 states that now have such programs available for large animal veterinarians.

  • Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York all attempted to pass bills that would allow for the recovery of non-economic damages in animal related negligence cases.

  • Increasing the regulation of commercial dog breeders and retailers became one of the most active areas of animal legislation this year. Legislators introduced over 90 "puppy mill" bills in 33 states. Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin passed such bills, while California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar measure. In addition, Connecticut, Nebraska, Oregon and Tennessee all adopted pet lemon laws to provide reimbursement for animal owners who purchase animals with certain health problems.

  • Connecticut, Maryland, and Vermont were added to the list of states that authorize the creation of a trust to provide for the care of an animal alive during the lifetime of a settler.

  • Scope of practice issues continue to dominate several state legislatures. California passed a law making it unlawful for a city or county to prohibit a healing arts licensee from engaging in any act or performing any procedure that falls within the professionally recognized scope of practice of that licensee while Colorado passed a law allowing a registered licensed chiropractor to perform animal chiropractic when consistent with the scope of practice for chiropractors and the animal has been provided a veterinary medical clearance by a licensed veterinarian. A new Nebraska law provides for the licensure of animal therapists while New Hampshire and Utah recently adopted laws allowing licensed physical therapists to practice on animals if the therapist meets certain requirements.

A Look at the Year Ahead

All states, with the exception of Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas, are scheduled to hold regular sessions in 2010. Fiscal troubles will likely continue to dominate state legislative agendas nationwide. Other issues that lawmakers are expected to address in 2010 include implementation of health care reform, reigning in prescription drug costs, restricting gifts from drug companies to medical professionals, and measures regulating or banning certain chemicals.

As has been the trend for the last decade, we expect to see several thousand bills and agency proposals that impact animals and veterinarians. The AVMA will continue to track all of this activity carefully and respond in partnership with state veterinary medical associations. In November 2009, the AVMA switched legislative tracking software providers, from Netscan to StateTrack, a tracking service provided by Congressional Quarterly, Inc. This new service provides us with more efficient and more user-friendly reports that we believe will be more helpful for our state advocacy efforts.

There is no reason to believe that the proliferation of measures to regulate commercial pet breeders and retailers will stop in 2010. New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have already proposed bills and regulations relating to pet breeders and dealers.

We can expect to see more states moving to restrict the power of local governments to ban medical or veterinary procedures. We also predict that activists will increasingly turn to ballot initiatives to set animal welfare policy in those states that allow this type of direct citizen action. The use of the ballot initiative may even spill over to regulation of companion animals on issues such as commercial breeder regulation. In this past, ballot initiatives were used successfully to pass restrictions on livestock housing systems. For example, the Ohio Livestock Standards Board was created through a voter ballot initiative in 2009. This measure may give rise to similar referenda in the future.

In response to a dramatic rise in reported pet thefts in 2009, lawmakers in several states are poised to increase penalties for dog-napping. New York has already introduced SB 6354 which would establish the crimes of pet theft in the first and second degree. It would provide that pet theft in the second degree is a Class E felony and that pet theft in the first degree is a Class D felony.

We have already tracked and analyzed 80 pre-filed and introduced bills and regulations for the upcoming legislative session. Animal cruelty and animal fighting legislation has been very prevalent thus far, and we predict that this trend will continue. In addition, we've seen legislation relating to complementary and alternative medicine, dangerous dogs, controlled substances and prescription monitoring programs, rabies vaccinations, and veterinary practice and licensure.

The following is a summary, by topics and subtopics, of several key animal and veterinary-related issues that arose in 2009. 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)