Blog: The calm before the calm on the high seas of animal policy
This blogger has been quiet for the past month or so. Not for lack of work or interests, but to wait and see if state legislatures across the country or Congress signaled any appetite to challenge veterinarians or blaze new trails in animal welfare in 2014. After a decade of steady activity in the states, and a hint here or there in Congress, we’ve now witnessed the winds dying down and the seas calming.
Most state legislatures have wrapped up their work for 2014 (only 11 states currently remain in session), and not a single chamber took aim at veterinarians in a meaningful or threatening manner. Practice acts were not reconfigured, sales taxes on veterinary services were not imposed, professional judgment and autonomy were not undermined and political hands steered clear of the basic economics of veterinary practices.
While the New Jersey legislature remains in session and a theoretical possibility exists that S 1748 (a stripped-down version of the federal pet medications bill) might gain traction, all signs point otherwise. There is no evidence that the big box retailers are behind the bill and no public outcry suggesting that this issue must become a state priority, particularly at a time when New Jersey faces a host of financial problems of its own. The same political conditions have stalled the latest federal push to drive pet medications through non-veterinary channels, HR 4023.
Animal welfare initiatives also have languished in both companion animal and farm animal arenas. While state after state continues to push forward with bills to toughen sanctions against persons engaged in acts of cruelty, no ground was broken with laws governing sales of pets, breeding operations and the like.
So what do we make of this? State legislation is local most of the time, not reflecting national trends or initiatives, so I’m always careful not to draw overarching conclusions. As state budgets get tighter, and pressure builds for increased funding for schools and infrastructure (without obvious solutions other than raising taxes, which is not exactly a popular choice), legislatures appear to shy away from other controversial issues and, frankly, push harder to get a few things done and call it a session. Animal welfare issues rarely occupy the front page, so this press to limit the span of action in other policy areas inevitably scales back interest in animal-related issues.
At least that’s one blogger’s view, coupled with the overall sense that as the media continues to educate the public about the value of the human-animal bond, perhaps there is less appetite from activist groups to restrict access to pets. Just a hunch.
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 dvm360.com 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.