Q: What is your role as the AVMA's director of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs?
Adrian Hochstadt, director of AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, responds:
A: I see my role as helping to implement the Executive Board's policy to enhance the profession's ability to influence public policy at the state and local levels. The board created this position, along with a state analyst position, and provided funding for legislative tracking software. Altogether, I think that we have a great foundation for an effective department.
Q: Why was your position created?
A: The position was created partly due to a demand by state VMAs for help. They're in the trenches every day battling these issues, and are looking for a central place to get information to help them in these battles. Previously, they worked with a number of AVMA staff in various divisions, but there wasn't one place they could go for assistance. Now, they can look for a specific place for coordination and support.
Q: What is the AVMA's interest in participating at the state level?
A: Sometimes state bills have national implications. That's why it was so important to defeat the Florida pharmacy bill that Gov. Jeb Bush recently vetoed (see article). That legislation would have impacted pharmacies based in one state but operating nationwide. What happens in one state can have an impact well beyond its borders. Additionally, a bill passed in one state can serve as a precedent for similar legislation in other states. That's why the entire veterinary profession and the AVMA have a stake in what happens in state legislatures. After all, this is a profession regulated by state boards, so obviously a lot of these important issues are going to be decided at the state level.
Q: How does your job differ from that of the staff of the Governmental Relations Division?
A: The GRD is charged with advocating and monitoring federal level legislation and regulations. The State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department was designed specifically to address legislation, regulations, and even court decisions that occur at the state and local levels.
Q: How do you assist state VMAs and constituent organizations?
A: Much of this will be clarified once the new AVMA's State Advocacy Committee begins its work. That committee is going to prioritize how resources are utilized, as well as help determine when and what is the appropriate response from the AVMA. In the meantime, there are things we in the division have been working on. We already provide echnical assistance to state VMAs on legislative issues and offer alternative language for proposed bills along with background material and information on how other states have handled similar legislation. Another area of interest is legislative monitoring to alert state VMAs and facilitate the exchange of information among the state and allied associations. We can also provide national contacts. For instance, while working to defeat the Florida pharmacy bill, we were able to mobilize national pharmacy associations that otherwise may not have been involved. Where appropriate, AVMA has also taken direct action. An example was a recent letter urging the Florida governor to veto the aforementioned pharmacy bill, which is what he did.
Q: Does the AVMA act as a neutral resource or as an advocate?
A: The state VMAs are going to be the first line of defense; they're the ones who coordinate the effort to support or defeat a bill in their state. The state VMAs can ask the AVMA for assistance if they think it's appropriate or needed. So, whether we're a resource or an advocate depends on the request. Also, there may be issues on which established AVMA policy will guide our response.
Q: How have the state VMAs responded to the AVMA's assistance?
A: I've heard nothing but praise and sincerely hope that's what others are hearing, too.
Q: Do you also deal with matters at the county and municipal levels?
A: There are local ordinances that impact the veterinary profession and animal welfare. As we grow the department, this will be an increasing area of focus, along with judicial opinions issued by state courts. On certain issues, such as noneconomic damages for pet loss, courts are as influential as state legislatures in crafting law. That's another area we need to watch.
Q: What issues are you currently focused on?
A: Right now, we are tracking about 80 bills and counting. Of course, there are hundreds of animal-related bills. I've really been impressed with the breadth and scope of animal-related legislation; it's everything from wildlife to liability issues. The State Advocacy Committee will help set our priorities. But in the few months I've been here, there are three areas popping up more than others: animal welfare, scope of practice, and pharmacies. These seem to be a hotbed of legislative activity.
Q: Are there plans to expand your responsibilities or provide additional services to constituents?
A: You're going to see more sophisticated and enhanced analysis and reporting mechanisms as we move forward. Right now, we send out a legislative update report to state and allied VMAs as often as possible. This report will be enhanced in the future. As word of our resources and effectiveness grows, hopefully there will be more requests for assistance. We wish to provide state VMAs with tools to lobby effectively and develop strong grassroots networks. Software matching AVMA members to their state legislators may be purchased in the future. We envision more training, such as seminars at state and regional meetings on how to influence state legislators. Finally, another public policy symposium for state advocacy is scheduled for 2006. With hard work and a little luck, I would like to see the state VMAs be able to be more effective and proactive in their legislative pursuits, with the result that the profession gain the status and credibility it deserves from policy makers and the public.