January 01, 2012




 School debt, animal research among legislative concerns

By Greg Cima
Posted Dec. 15, 2011

financial institutionThe AVMA will support a bill that would allow individuals who accepted student loans from private banks to discharge those debts through bankruptcy.

The Executive Board voted Nov. 11 to support S. 1102, the Fairness for Struggling Students Act, and H.R. 2028, the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act, each of which would allow privately issued student loan debts to be discharged through bankruptcy. The Senate bill would also allow discharge of educational debts owed to nonprofit institutions, but the House version would affect only debts owed to for-profit institutions.

Dr. Douglas G. Aspros, AVMA president-elect, said in support of the legislation that the AVMA should support recent graduates above banks. The AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee had recommended that the Executive Board take a neutral stance on the legislation and wrote to the board that supporting the legislation could be construed as condoning delinquency or nonpayment of student loans by veterinarians.

Dr. Larry G. Dee, who represents District IV, expressed support for the bills, although he acknowledged that banks could respond to such legislation by increasing the difficulty of getting student loans. His district comprises Florida, Georgia, and Puerto Rico.

Joseph M. Esch, who represents the Student AVMA as an invited participant at Executive Board meetings, said students would likely prefer that the AVMA support the legislation, but he noted that most veterinary students' loans come from the federal government.

In a later interview, Dr. Aspros said the AVMA should "support efforts to mitigate the terrible burden of educational debt that new veterinary graduates labor under." Bankruptcy offers a fresh start by liquidating assets, a step no veterinarian is likely to take lightly, he said. He thinks educational debt should not be treated differently than other liabilities.

The board voted to oppose legislation that would increase restrictions on which dogs and cats could be obtained for use in research. Dr. Mark P. Helfat, who represents District II, urged support for The Pet Safety and Protection Act, H.R. 2256, which is intended to eliminate the practice of obtaining dogs and cats from class B, or random-source, animal dealers.

"I would look forward to the day when AVMA changes its opinion and policy on Class B dealers," Dr. Helfat said.

Dr. Helfat's district encompasses Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Dr. Helfat opposes use of random-source animal dealers because of ethical and humane treatment concerns.

AVMA policy states that class B dealers should be used only when viable alternatives do not exist. The policy, "Use of Random-Source Dogs and Cats for Research, Testing, and Education," states that carefully controlled acquisition and use of random-source dogs and cats can humanely and prudently aid research, testing, and education.

Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, said random-source animals are used alive for research and as cadavers for anatomic instruction, but some veterinary schools have indicated the latter are increasingly difficult to obtain. Donations from shelters have been proposed as alternatives for research and teaching, but organizations supporting the legislation are also discouraging such donations, she said. Legislators in some states are also working to prevent such donations.

The Executive Board also approved the following positions on pending legislation:

  • The AVMA will support the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now Act, H.R. 2182 and S. 1734, which would extend by five years exclusivity periods for some antibiotics, give priority to applications for approval and licensing of such antibiotics, hasten time for such drugs to become available, review the clinical trial process for antibiotics, and establish studies on the need for incentives to research, develop, and market antibiotics.
  • The AVMA will support the Main Street Fairness Act, S. 1452 and H.R. 2701, which would force online businesses to collect sales tax at the same rate as local businesses.
  • Board members voted in support of the Charitable Agricultural Research Act, S. 1561 and H.R. 2959, which would allow creation of charitable tax-exempt organizations that could direct money toward agriculture research.
  • The board voted to oppose the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act, S. 886 and H.R. 1733, which would ban entering horses in races subject to interstate off-track wager if the horses were affected by a performance-enhancing drug. The LAC recommended against supporting the bill because of overly broad definitions, lack of authorization to carry out requirements, and lack of Federal Trade Commission expertise on drug enforcement.
  • The AVMA will work in support of passage of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, H.R. 2492, which would establish punishments for people who attend or bring minors to animal fights.
  • The board approved pursuing AVMA Farm Bill priorities, including reauthorizing the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, authorizing the Veterinary Services Investment Act, reauthorizing the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, funding the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, providing money for the Minor Use Animal Drug Program, financing the Animal Health and Disease Research/1433 Formula Funds, reauthorizing the Agriculture and Food Research Institute, supporting agricultural disaster planning and response grant programs, and funding an oral rabies vaccine program for wildlife.

The AVMA will spend previously budgeted money to support a pilot advocacy program for state VMAs, SAVMA, and specialty groups. And the Executive Board will meet in June 2012 in Washington, D.C., in a gathering that will include advocacy on Capitol Hill instead of meeting at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill.