Controversial spay/neuter bill passes Alabama senate

Legislation allowing veterinarians to work for non-veterinarians passed the Alabama State Senate with only three nay votes this week.

The legislation will allow non-veterinarians to own and oversee nonprofit spay and neuter clinics in the state of Alabama.

Under current Alabama law, each partner in a veterinary medicine partnership is required to be a licensed Alabama veterinarian. Under existing law, a licensed Alabama veterinarian is prohibited from practicing veterinary medicine as an employee of a person not licensed as a Alabama veterinarian.

Alabama law also limits ownership of veterinary practices to licensed Alabama veterinarians.

House Bill 156, however, will allow any veterinarian employed by a 501 (c) (3) to be exempt from employment and ownership restrictions. This means that veterinarians will be allowed to work for non-veterinarians in nonprofit spay and neuter clinics in Alabama.

The bill was drafted as a response to efforts by the Alabama State Veterinary Medical Examiners Board (ASBVME) to shutter the state’s four spay and neuter clinics after closing one down last year.

Members of the veterinary examiners board stated that the spay and neuter clinics, which they had inspected and approved on multiple occasions, provided substandard veterinary care.

Former head of the ASBVME, Robert Pitman, DVM, opposed the bill, saying that the board had evidence that non-veterinarians were allowing substandard care at the clinics.

"There is a body of evidence that indicates standard of care is not being met. Standard of care issues are being mandated by the non-veterinarian Executive directors and a non-veterinarian board of directors to a veterinarian that has been/proclaimed to be the owner," Pitman wrote in an opposition statement. "This doesnt mean the veterinarian owns anything but he/she is the owner of the proclamation, which is a violation of our practice act."

Pitman said allowing practices to be overseen by non-veterinarians would be harmful to the pet-owning public, complaining that under the proposed legislation, anyone could own a clinic.

"The ASBVME adamantly opposes this legislation that would allow every 501(c) (3) non-profit organization to own a clinic, such as humane societies, rescue groups, volunteer fire department, wild turkey federation, bingo club, etc.," Pitman wrote. "This is certainly not in the best interest of the pet owning public."

Pitman argued that enough licensed veterinarians in Alabama provide low-cost spay and neuter services, eliminating the need for nonprofit clinics.

"This begs the questions-are these nonprofit clinics really necessary? I submit to you that they are not," Pitman wrote. "In every community virtually every practitioner provides low cost-no cost services to the needy. That is the make-up of the majority of veterinarians in this state."

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) got involved in the debate as well, sending a letter of support to the Alabama Senate as the bill neared a Senate vote this week.

"FTC staff believe the bill is likely to benefit consumers by increasing consumer access to, and choices among, spay and neuter services for their pets," the letter stated. "In general, competition is enhanced when there are fewer restrictions on the ways in which professionals organize their businesses, consistent with consumer safeguards."

The letter said the bill promotes competition among veterinarians and provides appropriate safeguards for the well-being of animals.

In its letter, the FTC references safeguards that will ensure that "quality of spaying or neutering services is the same, regardless of whether a facility is owned by a veterinarian of a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit."

An amendment to the bill will prohibit a spay and neuter clinic from selling over-the-counter veterinarian products.

"A spay neuter clinic is specifically prohibited from offering any over-the-counter veterinarian product for sale, unless prescribed and provided as a single dose during surgery," the amendment reads. "This subdivision does not prohibit medically necessary medicines from being dispensed by a veterinarian in accordance with the standard of care ascribed to and practiced by licensed veterinarians."

The issue sparked a heated debate on social networks.

"Just called all the Alabama State Senators asking for their support on the HB 156 bill to keep the Alabama Spay Neuter Clinics open...Please say a prayer that this bill passes! We need these clinics in the state of Alabama!" Denise Dolbow Hanners posted on Facebook.

Area humane societies also expressed excitement on Facebook in the days following the bill’s passage.

"We at The Humane Society of Barbour County are delighted! Thanks AVRAL Members and Senators who voted for it!" wrote Susan Bishop.

Several Facebook groups had mobilized in support of the bill in an effort to keep the Alabama spay and neuter clinics open.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation