State Legislative Update September 2014

​State Legislative Update
Prepared by Department of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs
AVMA Communications Division
September 15, 2014

Labor Day usually signifies the end of summer, the beginning of fall, and in an election year such as 2014, the traditional start of the campaign season. Meanwhile, several important bills related to veterinary medicine were signed into law recently:

  • California AB 1597 requires that horses brought into the state must be accompanied by a certificate of health from the state of origin and in most cases, verification that the animal has been tested in the last 12 months for equine infectious anemia.
  • Massachusetts SB 2345 makes the state the 28th to require a veterinarian to report suspected animal cruelty observed in the normal course of business. The bill provides immunity from civil or criminal liability for good-faith reporting. The final version of the legislation creates a task force to review animal cruelty laws and increases fines and prison sentences for malicious killing, injury or cruelty to animals. However, the bill does not include provisions sought by some lawmakers calling for an animal-abuse hotline and creating an animal-abuse registry.
  • New York SB 2742 and AB 8867 include treatment of dental conditions in the definition of veterinary medicine but exclude floating of equine teeth. The legislation was made necessary by a 2009 court decision ruling that horse dentistry is a common practice that does not require certification or licensing in the absence of a specific legislative provision.
  • New York SB 6903 and AB 9004 limit direct contact between the public and big cats, including taking photographs without a permanent physical barrier. This legislation is partly a result of so-called "tiger selfies," with individuals posting photos on social media or dating websites of themselves with dangerous animals. Similar laws are already on the books in several states including Kansas, where a 17-year-old girl was killed in 2005 while posing with a tiger for her senior photos.

Regulatory watch

Officials in King County, Washington, are dropping pursuit of an ordinance that would require veterinarians to submit client information each time a rabies vaccine is administered to a dog or cat. Instead, a cooperative program will be developed to allow veterinarians to voluntarily promote the purchase of pet licenses. A concerted effort by pet owners and the state and local veterinary associations sent a strong message to King County government officials that forcing veterinarians to report their clients is the wrong way to increase pet licensing. Nearly 8,000 signatures of concerned pet owners and members of the veterinary profession were delivered to King County offices in opposition to the proposals, combined with nearly 900 supporters who signed a petition entitled, "Don't make veterinarians rat out their clients."

Legal watch

The Oregon Supreme Court issued two decisions that will make it easier to prosecute animal cruelty cases. In State v. Nix the court ruled that a person convicted of starving 20 horses and goats on his property could be sentenced on 20 different counts, not just on one count of second-degree animal neglect. This could result in longer jail sentences and make it more difficult for defendants to expunge such convictions from their criminal records later. In State v. Fessenden, the court found that a sheriff's deputy was legally justified in rushing onto a pasture to get medical help for a clearly malnourished horse. The state's high court ruled that the deputy, who thought the horse was in immediate danger of falling and dying, did not need a warrant to step onto private property and get the animal to a veterinarian. In this case, the court stated that while animals are still defined by law as "property," the deputy did not violate the constitutional search and seizure rights of the two owners because exigent circumstances existed requiring swift action to prevent harm to people or to property. The deputy had estimated it would take four to eight hours to obtain the warrant, which would likely be too late to save the horse.

AVMA at National Conference of State Legislatures

On Aug. 19-22, AVMA exhibited at the National Conference of State Legislatures' 40th annual Legislative Summit at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Approximately 5,000 state legislators and legislative staffers attended the meeting to exchange information and gain knowledge to take back to their respective states. As has been the case for the past 12 years, the AVMA had a booth in the exhibit hall and significant interaction with legislators and legislative staff on many veterinary-related issues. The goal of the booth was to help educate legislators and staff on public policy that affects the profession and promote the AVMA and state VMAs as vital sources of information when these topics are considered in legislatures.