Senators emphasize importance of veterinarians participating in legislative process

Allard and Melcher explain AVMA's legislative priorities, value of PAC
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During the AVMA Annual Convention in Denver, AVMA Political Action Committee members and others listened to firsthand accounts of the government process and the critical role of veterinarians in lobbying Congress from two distinguished veterinarians.

Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado addressed the AVMA PAC at its annual luncheon, July 20. The veterinarian and two-term senator spoke to a gathering of some 200 people about the role of veterinarians in the government, and legislation important to the veterinary profession.

Allard is one of two veterinarians currently serving in the U.S. Senate, the other being Sen. John Ensign, Republican of Nevada. After receiving his DVM degree from Colorado State University in 1968, Allard went on to own a small-animal practice with his wife, Joan, until his election to the House of Representatives in 1990. He won a seat in the Senate in 1996 and was re-elected last November.

Allard attributes his political successes to the public's positive view of veterinarians. In Washington, he has supported the AVMA's positions on ending interstate transportation of birds for fighting and promoting the chief of the Army Veterinary Corps to the rank of general.

At the PAC luncheon, Allard explained how terms common to veterinarians, such as encephalitis, anthrax, and botulism, are now well-known on Capitol Hill. That's one reason why veterinarians must take a more active role in government. As such, Allard pledged his support for the AVMA initiative to create a veterinary position in the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Allard also addressed the AVMA's legislative agenda during the 108th Congress. He has co-sponsored the Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Health Act (S. 741) and supports the Association Health Plan legislation (S. 545), which cleared the House in June but is still being considered by the Senate.

MUMS would provide incentives for drug companies to develop and seek approval by the Food and Drug Administration for drugs to treat uncommon animal diseases in major animal species and treat conditions in minor species for which therapies are currently unavailable.

The Association Health Plan bill would override state regulations and restrictions that prevent associations from offering health care coverage to their members' employees, such as coverage from the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust, which is not currently available to AVMA members.

Allard spoke of other small-business concerns, including tax and regulatory burdens that, as a former small-business owner, concerned him personally. The current economic condition, he said, is due to new regulations dealing with potential terrorist attacks. In addition, Allard advocated the elimination of the death tax, which requires family members to pay a tax for businesses inherited.

The luncheon was a fund-raiser for the AVMA Political Action Committee. Before Sen. Allard spoke, the PAC recognized the four AVMAPAC Presidential Club members who gave the maximum contribution allowed by the Federal Election Commission of $5,000 during the past year. The contributors are Drs. James E. Nave, Jack O. Walther, Larry R. Corry, and Mary Beth Leininger.

On July 22, the AVMAPAC and the American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives hosted a breakfast in the Adam's Mark Hotel. Twenty-seven people were present to hear former Montana senator and veterinarian John Melcher address the importance of government participation and lobbying.

He emphasized the need for state veterinary medical associations and the AVMA to work together to accomplish their goals. Melcher explained that state veterinary medical associations need to work with their federal representatives in Congress to help pass the AVMA's 108th congressional legislative agenda.

Melcher was the first veterinarian to serve in the Senate. He received his DVM degree from Iowa State University in 1950 and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1969, serving for eight years before being elected to the Senate.

A two-term senator, Melcher was known for his advocacy of environmental and animal welfare issues. He championed revisions to the Animal Welfare Act in 1985.

After he left the Senate, Melcher began working with the AVMA Governmental Relations Division to promote the AVMA's legislative goals. His efforts led to passage of the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act in 1994, also known as the AVMA Legislative Initiative, a bill considered the most important legislative effort undertaken by the AVMA.

Regarding the MUMS bill, Melcher said that, with the combined efforts of state veterinarians and the AVMA, the legislation stands a good chance of being passed by Congress this session.

Association Health Plans and MUMS are just two of the five 108th Congress legislative agenda issues set by the AVMA Executive Board that were discussed at the breakfast.

Another important piece of legislation is the National Veterinary Medical Service Act (H.R. 1367), introduced by Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering of Mississippi. There is a shortage of veterinarians in rural agricultural and inner-city areas, in certain populations, and in various veterinary disciplines. Loan repayment obligations prevent many new veterinary school graduates from working in these underserved areas.

This act would provide student loan repayment to recent veterinary school graduates who agree to work in underserved areas.

The fifth issue is the Special Pay for Federal Board Certified Health Scientists Act. The federal government's need for highly trained health science professionals has increased considerably over the past several years. Government agencies lack sufficient financial incentives to recruit and retain talented scientists for government service.

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu has introduced S. 953, which would offer specialty pay to federal employees who hold board certification in positions related to veterinary medicine, as well as dentistry, human medicine, nursing, pharmacy, psychology, and optometry.

During their talks, Allard and Melcher underscored the importance of political action committees. The AVMAPAC's mission is to advance AVMA legislative goals by providing financial support to selected candidates seeking election to Congress.

PAC money is composed of contributions from AVMA members, members of their families, and AVMA employees. All donated money goes directly to political candidates and is not used for administrative costs.

Candidates are selected by using information gathered by AVMA GRD staff and independent sources, and is not based on political party affiliation.

To find out more about the AVMA-PAC or how candidates are selected, call the AVMA Governmental Relations Division at (800) 321-1473.