Alabama spay-neuter bill dies quiet death
Alabama House Bill 156, known in the state as the "spay-neuter bill," passed both houses of the state legislature. It survived amendment in conference committee. Then? Nothing. The bill that created more noise than a crowded animal shelter fell silent.
"It passed both houses, but the speaker wouldn't bring it out of the basket," says Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, the bill's sponsor. What this means is that at his discretion, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, D-Auburn, did not present HB 156 to the legislature for a final vote before the 2012 regular session ended May 16. The bill that would have allowed veterinarians to be employed by nonveterinarians in Alabama's nonprofit spay-neuter facilities was dead in the water.
The bill, as approved by the conference committee, would have allowed those facilities owned by non-veterinarians to provide spay-neuter surgeries, along with limited vaccinations and leukemia and heartworm disease testing at the time of surgery. This would require a licensed veterinarian to supervise veterinary medical practice at these locations, provided the facility had obtained an approved premises permit from the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME).The ASBVME made no secret of the fact that it was opposed to the bill. President Robert Pitman, DVM, and Vice President William Ronald Welch, DVM, both issued letters to members concerning their stance. Pitman's letter argued that enough licensed Alabama veterinarians provided affordable spay-neuter services and there was no need for low-cost spay-neuter clinics. (For purposes of comparison, it costs $228 to have a 15-pound female dog spayed at Welch Veterinary Clinic in Wetumpka, Ala., which is owned by the ASBVME vice president. Clients are charged $70 for the same service at the Alabama Animal Alliance Spay/Neuter Clinic, which is 20 miles away in Montgomery, Ala.).
Pitman's letter warned that under the proposed law any nonprofit organization, including "rescue groups, volunteer fire departments, wild turkey federations, bingo clubs, etc.," could own a veterinary practice. Both board members questioned the nonprofit facilities' ability to meet acceptable standards of care.
A request for comment from the ASBVME prompted an email response from Tammy Wallace, executive director of the ASBVME, July 10, alluding to problems between the clinics and the board as being far from over. "We are not in a position to respond on pending litigation at this point," Wallace wrote. Without official comment from the board, DVM Newsmagazine couldn't confirm at press time whether the regulatory board is planning to take legal action against the clinics.
When reached for comment, Welch said he could not provide a statement concerning HB 156. Pitman said the same, although he did pose this question: "If they [the clinics] were not operating illegally, why have they tried so hard to change our practice act?"