Every two years a new Congress convenes, and 2003 marks the beginning of the 108th Congress. At the beginning of a new Congress, members of the House and Senate introduce new legislation and reintroduce bills that did not pass in prior Congresses. Then, legislators must obtain support for their legislation, and work it through the appropriate committees, hoping to see it culminate with an affirmative vote by both houses of Congress. If a bill does not pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate by the end of the two-year Congress, and move to the president for signing, the bill dies and a legislator must reintroduce the bill in the next Congress for any further consideration.
The AVMA Executive Board has set an aggressive, well-defined federal legislative agenda for the 108th Congress. This agenda was set by working within the AVMA governance system of councils and committees of volunteer members. Over the past few years, the AVMA Legislative Advisory Committee has assisted the Executive Board in formulating AVMA policies and positions on federal legislative and regulatory proposals. The AVMA Political Action Committee Policy Board helps advance this legislative agenda by supporting candidates for the House and Senate who support AVMA policies and promote the Association's legislative agenda. The staff of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C., work cooperatively with staff at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill., to develop and implement strategy to advance the AVMA federal legislative agenda.
There are currently five AVMA legislative initiatives that the GRD is actively supporting in Congress. These five initiatives would improve the economic base of the veterinary profession, assist practitioners in obtaining more medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and allow affordable AVMA group health insurance to more AVMA members and members' employees.
Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Health Act, S. 741
In the United States, there is a critical shortage of approved animal drugs intended for minor uses in major animal species and for minor species. The minor use, minor species bill is intended as a mechanism to provide FDA-authorized drugs for uncommon animal disease conditions in major species and for conditions in minor species where therapies are unavailable. The legislation would alleviate the shortage of approved animal drugs while maintaining and ensuring the protection of public health. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has introduced S.741 with original co-sponsors Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Larry Craig (R-ID), Wayne Allard (R-CO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Michael Crapo (R-ID), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), John Ensign (R-NV), and Zell Miller (D-GA). Representative Charles "Chip" Pickering (R-MS) is expected to introduce MUMS in the House.
Animal Drug User Fee Act, S. 313, H.R. 1260
The FDA's new animal drug review process currently takes five to 10 years, resulting in major delays in the release of new animal drugs. Animal health products vital to veterinarians, livestock and poultry producers, and pet owners are at a backlog because of the lengthy review process. Senate Bill 313 would greatly improve the FDA's ability to process New Animal Drug Applications and would establish greater accountability in the review and approval process. The fees would fund 60 additional product reviewers for the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) introduced the bill, and it passed the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and is awaiting vote by the full Senate. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) has introduced the House version, H.R.1260, with Reps. Michael Bilirakis (R-FL), Christopher John (D-LA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), and James C. Greenwood (R-PA) as original co-sponsors. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
National Veterinary Medical Service Act, H.R. 1367
The United States is experiencing a shortage of veterinarians in rural agricultural and inner-city areas, in certain population groups, and in various veterinary disciplines. Veterinarians are the nation's front line of defense against domestic and foreign animal diseases and are needed in rural agricultural and inner-city areas to support our nation's defense against bioterrorism and to help ensure food safety. This bill would provide loan forgiveness for recent graduates who agree to work in veterinary shortage situations. Representative Charles "Chip" Pickering (R-MS) has introduced H.R. 1367, with Rep. Jim Turner (D-TX) being an original co-sponsor.
Specialty pay for federally employed, board-certified health science professionals
The federal government's need for highly trained health science professionals has increased substantially over the past several years. The role of many federal health scientists places them on the front lines of current homeland security efforts. Incentives ar needed for government agencies to be able to recruit and retain the best and brightest scientists for government service. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has drafted legislation that would extend specialty pay to board-certified federal employees in positions related to dentistry, human medicine, nursing, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, psychology, and optometry. She is expected to introduce this legislation soon.
Small Business Health Fairness Act, S. 545, H.R. 660
As health care costs continue to rise, many small business owners, including veterinarians, find it difficult or impossible to provide health care coverage to their employees. Under existing state laws, regulatory requirements prevent the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust from offering insurance to nonveterinary staff employed by AVMA member veterinarians, and in seven states—Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington—those regulations even prevent the trust from providing health insurance to AVMA members. Representatives Ernie Fletcher (R-KY), Cal Dooley (D-CA), Sam Johnson (R-TX), and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) have introduced H.R. 660, and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has introduced the Senate version, S. 545, with original co-sponsors senators Christopher Bond (R-MO), James Talent (R-MO), Norm Coleman (R-MN), John McCain (R-AZ), and Elizabeth Dole (R-NC). The legislation would remove state regulations and restrictions that prevent associations from offering health care coverage to their members' employees. This legislation would provide associations the ability to negotiate lower premiums for group health care coverage for members and their employees, passing the savings along to business owners, and increasing the number of Americans who can afford quality health care.
For information on how you can work with your member of Congress to support the AVMA's 108th Congress legislative agenda, call the AVMA GRD office at (800) 321-1473.