Blog: Alabama's at it again with bills regulating veterinary shelters


Massachusetts looking to establish veterinary technician board.

State legislatures are political laboratories in a manner that Congress can never replicate. It’s the genius of our dual system of government, providing for legislative powers in 50 separate states along with the federal government. We’re fascinated (or repelled) by the machinations of Congress and the president, but we ignore the doings of state legislatures at our peril.

Consider these just-below-the-radar issues in small animal healthcare: (1) the strategic plans of some metropolitan shelters and humane societies to convert their veterinary departments into full-service commercial veterinary clinics competing with the profession, and (2) expanding the scope of practice for veterinary technicians.

With that backdrop, let’s take a look at HB 141 and HB 93 in Alabama, and HB 246 in Massachusetts.

Alabama. Alabama’s HB 141, set for its first hearing on January 29, is yet the latest version of an ongoing debate in Alabama about the scope of practice for veterinarians vis-à-vis veterinary support staff and what alternative service facilities like spay-neuter clinics are allowed to do.

The past two Alabama legislative sessions were the scene of bitter battles about what shelters should be allowed to do, and HB 93 takes up an element of this issue with its mandate for monthly public reporting by shelters on a range of activities and data. Neither of these bills directly addresses the issue of shelter veterinary services competing with private veterinary practices, but it’s hard not to see a link to this contentious topic.

Massachusetts. HB 246 in Massachusetts is set for its first hearing today, Jan. 28. This bill, which falls under the consumer protection banner, establishes a veterinary technology board as a subsidiary of the veterinary medical board, with a majority of its composition coming from veterinary technicians rather than veterinarians. While HB 246 doesn’t expand the scope of practice for a technician in Massachusetts, it clearly signals the need for greater visibility for their role.

It’s hard to imagine that this would not lead to the expansion of authorized services performed by nonveterinarians in a veterinary clinic. For those in the industry who call for veterinary medicine to catch up with human medicine in its more efficient use of a paraprofessional medical team to deliver services, HB 246 may be an important first step.

We’ll keep you posted on whether these Jan. 28 and 29 hearings in Alabama and Massachusetts get balls rolling or fade into committee archives.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement.

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