Topeka, Kan. - Legislation that would have taken away the Kansas Board of Veterinary Examiners' ability to preside over its own administrative hearings is dead for 2008, though it is expected to come up for consideration again in next year's legislative session.
Topeka, Kan. — Legislation that would have taken away the Kansas Board of Veterinary Examiners' ability to preside over its own administrative hearings is dead for 2008, though it is expected to come up for consideration again in next year's legislative session.
Originating in the House, the measure would have affected not only the veterinary regulatory board but also 20 other professional regulatory boards in Kansas. After it passed the House, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved and sent the bill to the full Senate. After debate, the Senate sent it back to committee near the close of the legislative session, effectively killing it for this term.
"Naturally, we're very pleased the Senate sent it back," says Gary Reser, executive vice president of the Kansas Veterinary Medical Association. "We worked very hard to have our board exempted. After presenting our case to the committee, I also visited 30 to 40 senators myself right before it went to the full Senate, so it appears our efforts paid off, though we do expect to see it back for debate in next year's session."
The bill was aimed at ensuring that regulators who investigate complaints against licensed professionals to determine probable cause don't also conduct administrative hearings in those cases. It would have required all 21 healing-arts regulatory boards — including physicians, veterinarians, osteopaths, nursing assistants, physical therapists and others — to hire an outside hearing officer to preside over their adjudication hearings.
"The 14th Amendment calls for separation in due process. The police who investigate cases can't also be the judges. We were already handling our cases correctly, keeping the two parts separate," says Dirk Hanson, DVM and executive director of the Kansas Board of Veterinary Examiners.
"Some of the other boards may have fallen short on that, which was the reason for this bill. Unfortunately, we got painted with a broad brush. We felt we should be excepted if it had passed."
There's a message in the situation for other state veterinary boards, Hanson says. "All of them need to take whatever steps are necessary to make certain they allow for separation in due process, that there's absolutely no overlap between probable-cause investigations and the adjudication process."
The Kansas examining board was handling things correctly for years, Reser says. "It has veterinarians who look at the probable cause of complaints, and a completely different set of veterinarians who preside over adjudication. They work separately. There's no communication. So we strongly believe we shouldn't lose the option of presiding over our hearings. Maybe other boards weren't following the right procedure, but this bill amounted to throwing the baby out with the bath water."
The measure would have required the examining board to ask the state board of administration to hire an outside hearing officer for all administrative hearings.
"We saw all sorts of problems with that," Reser says. "First it would be much more expensive. You'd need expert witnesses to educate the hearing officer and bring him or her up to date, and you'd have to hire attorneys. This would drag everything out and drive up costs, not to mention there would be a lot more demand for hearing officers than the number of them available. Those extra costs could drive up licensing fees, which in turn would get passed on to clients," Reser says. "Ultimately, this could have (adversely) affected the standard of veterinary care."
While representatives of some other regulatory boards provided written testimony to the Senate committee opposing the bill, the KVMA offered both oral and written testimony, Reser says. "We argued that veterinarians are in the best position to handle any veterinary-client complaints because they know the profession.
"We were the only association that specifically asked for the correct language to be reinstated in the bill — the original bill didn't contain that; it was added in substitute House bill 2618 — allowing us the option of continuing to preside over our own hearings. I think there were some people among the other impacted agencies who believed if it hadn't been for the hard work of the KVMA, this bill would have been passed.
"Still, I expect it to come back next year. At least we'll have the rest of this year to get ready for it," Reser says.