By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, February 25, 2014, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 141 which would make it lawful for veterinarians to work for non-profit spay and neuter clinic to operate legally in Alabama. HB 141 was sponsored by Representative Patricia Todd (D) from Birmingham. Alabama has four spay/neuter clinics and this bill (if passed) would allow them to remain open.
Rep. Todd said that this is the third time she has carried this legislation to the Alabama House of Representatives.
“This is the exact same bill we passed last year…” but if failed to pass out of the Alabama Senate.
Todd said that this bill would amend the current Alabama Practicing Veterinarians Act to allow a veterinarian to work in a clinic not owned by a veterinarian. The veterinarian would have managing authority, there are restrictions on how long and animal can stay on the premises to just 36 hours, but normally this would be same day service. The clinics would have to abide by the same standards as other veterinarians.
Todd said that veterinarians are restricted to where they can practice in Alabama. Doctors, dentists, attorneys can work for non-professionals, while legally veterinarians can not.
Represenative Mac Buttram (R) from Cullman said that he found puppies dumped at his parent’s old house. He found in Marion County there is a shelter and gave them a donation for taking them. They have arrangements with societies in the Northeast to take Alabama’s surplus puppies. “I know this is a problem.” “I don’t know that this is the best way. We need more safeguards on what these clinics do.”
Rep. Buttram said that has been going on web sites, “One of them, either Dothan or Mobile, are still trimming toe nails, testing for heartworm and doing bloodwork, which is closer and closer to what is done at a full service veterinary clinic.”
Rep. Todd said, “They can’t do that if this bill passes.”
Rep. Buttram said that if this passes then, “Next year they will be working on expanding it.”
Rep. Todd said that the spay and neuter clinics, “…have no interest in expanding the practice because they do not make money. They don’t want to expand their practice and I would not support expanding their practice.”
Todd said the pet overpopulation, “…is a Huge problem, especially in major urban areas. Go to Every dumpster and you will see lots of cats.” Todd said that she would use her regular veterinarian for her animals, but the spay and neuter clinics, “…if I have a feral animal I need to have spayed and released.”
Rep. Buttram said, “I find that veterinarians are very willing to work with individuals as well as humane societies,” on spaying and neuter services.
Rep. Todd said, “The more options to spay and neuter the better.” Todd said that there is also an economic issue. “Every county has to have a shelter for these animals. We euthanize thousands of animals each year, particularly cats.” The clinics just want to do spay and neuter, which would keep the government from having to pay to put down so many animals.
Rep. David Standridge from Blount County said, “I am an animal lover. I grew up on a farm have always had animals and as a county commissioner have worked on this problem…I have been contacted over and over again by veterinarians about this piece of legislation. Why?”
Rep. Todd said, “I wish I could tell you that.” Todd said that many of the vets who are opposed to her bill have been given misleading information and a lot of veterinarians support this bill.
Rep. Standridge said, “When an animal issue comes up, I go to veterinarians.”
Todd said, “Don’t we believe in free markets? Maybe they (veterinarians) need to reduce the cost of their spay neuter services.”
Rep. Standridge said, “One thing I do feel strongly about is supporting our small businesses.”
Todd said, “Lawyers work for non-profits and so do dentists. Why not veterinarians?”
Standridge said, “I hope that we are not creating a non-profit that will compete with small businesses.”
Todd said that she does not expect a proliferation of non-profit spay and neuter clinics.
Rep. Standridge said, “The veterinarians that have talked to me don’t have a problem with spay neuter clinics,” but they favor alternative legislation.
Todd said, “It would be nice if they would bring that alternative to me.” Todd said that her bill, “…Is very specific. They(the non-profit spay and neuter clinics) can only spay, neuter, flea and parasite treatment.”
Rep. Standridge asked, “Are they (the non-profit spay and neuter clinics) complying with the practice act right now? Isn’t it true that there are formal procedures going on right now?” Standridge said that there are 12 charges and 17 sub-charges leveled against the spay and neuter clinics for a wide variety of offenses. Some are administrative. Some are standard of care. Some are even fraudulent.
Rep. Standridge said that every one of the veterinarians he has talked to on this say that they have had clients that had problems with the clinics.
Rep. Sanderford (R) from Decatur said, “I speak very much in favor of this bill.” Sanderford said on Thursday our mayor is going to give their clinic a commendation. Before the spay and neuter clinic opened in Decatur the city was euthanizing about 7600 animals a year. That has dropped to just 4400 a year. There are only four of these clinics around the State.
Rep. Sanderford said, “What our clinic does is they do the rabies shot, do the surgery, and they move it on.” Spaying a dog at a vet clinic can costs $400. “The spay and neuter clinic will do that for about $65.” Sanderfood said that spay and neuter clinics are a tremendous service to the State of Alabama and the amount of money they save local government is substantial.
Rep. Dan Williams (R) from Limestone Count asked, “Why are these shelters opening if they don’t make money?” Rep. Williams said, “Somebody makes money off of everything. My concern about the bill is that somebody makes money off of it and you are weakening the law.”
Rep. Todd said, “Donors give money to the non-profit. Nonprofits do not make money.”
Rep. Williams introduced a tabling motion to move the legislation to be carried over for discussion on another day. The tabling motion failed.
Rep. Jim McClendon (R) from Springville said, “Right now they (the four spay and neuter clinics) should be under the jurisdiction of the board of veterinary medicine. They have not revoked those permits. Is there something you are not telling me Rep. Todd?”
Rep. Todd said, “No.”
Rep. McClendon asked, “Is there some litigation out there now?”
Rep. Todd replied, “I don’t know.”
McClendon said, “Normally we would let the Board of Veterinary Medicine regulate their profession.”
Rep. Mac Buttram said, “Veterinarians are independent businessmen and they tell me: ‘just give me a level playing field.’
Buttram proposed an amendment requiring means testing for the clients of spay and neuter clinics. There would be an exception for people participating in the feral cats program.
Rep. Todd said, “I am not for a means test on this. I use the clinic. I may pick up a dog and have it spayed or neutered.”
Buttram said that his amendment would limit the clients of the non-profit spay and neuter clinics to recipients of Medicaid, people receiving utilities assistance, college or junior college system students, veterans, active military, or feral cat program participants
Rep. Todd said, “I am opposed to a means test on this,” and made a motion that tabled the Buttram amendment.
The House voted to table discussion of the Buttram Amendment.
Rep. Standridge said the directors of the non-profit spay and neuter clinics oftem make between $95,000 to $125,000. “A lot of veterinarians don’t make that kind of salary themselves.”
Rep. Todd said, “We normally deregulate to encourage competition.” Todd said she believes that there is really a need for these clinics and asked the House to support the legislation.
The bill was opposed by several Alabama veterinarians who think the non-profit low cost spay/neuter services would provide too much competition for the veterinarians.
Rep. Todd told the legislators: Todd said, “For every phone call you are getting from a veterinarian, there are hundreds of constituents supporting this bill.” Rep. Todd said that the spay neuter clinics can not expand their scope of service beyond what is spelled out in this bill. Todd said that the clinics must contract with an existing veterinarian and they can not perform any veterinary services other than spaying and neutering, vaccinations, and flea treatments.
Todd said that Alabama euthanizes 160,000 animals a year and that does not count the animals walking around loose getting hit by a car some place. Members of the Alabama Veterinary Examiner’s Board are opposed to this legislation. They are an association charged with regulating and licensing veterinary practice. Spay and Neuter Clinics still have to be licensed and regulated by the Board.
House Bill 141 passed by the House. The bill now goes to the Senate where there is already opposition. In 2012 and 2013 Todd’s bill passed in the House but died in the Senate.