Clock is ticking on veterinary legislation in 113th Congress
Passage of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act in July crossed one huge piece of legislation off the agenda of the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA's) Governmental Relations Division for 2014. Passed in the U.S. Senate and ushered through the House of Representatives by Veterinary Medicine Caucus members Kurt Schrader, DVM, (D-Ore.) and Ted Yoho, DVM, (R-Fla.), the new law eases friction between mobile veterinarians and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) by allowing the transport and administration of controlled substances outside registered DEA locations for veterinary practice.
However, Congress has until January—much of which will be spent on campaigns this election year—to pass the high-priority legislation left on the AVMA's current legislative agenda. The most high-profile items are the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act) and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act.
The PAST Act, designed to amend the 1970 Horse Protection Act and make soring—deliberately causing pain to artificially exaggerate the leg motion of a horse's gait—illegal, received much attention during the summer with a Walk on Washington where horse owners rode Tennessee walking horses and other show horses on U.S. Capitol grounds to show support for the PAST Act. This followed the introduction of House Resolution 4098 by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) endorsed by the walking horse industry's premier show, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Supporters of this counter-bill believe soring is not an industry epidemic and reject the need for what they call "overregulation" of the show horse industry.
The PAST Act has bipartisan support and 300 cosponsors in the U.S. House, but passage is by no means guaranteed. "The politics are a bit trickier since a few key congressmen in leadership positions both in the House and Senate are using their political clout to block the bill from advancing out of committee and/or to a floor vote," says Mark Lutschaunig, DVM, AVMA director of governmental relations, in an email to dvm360.
He says passage is not impossible but may be difficult, as there will only be about seven weeks left in session after most congressmen return after election season. However, in that time, says Ashley Morgan, DVM, the division's assistant director, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act "has a shot" of being included on other tax legislation Congress could pass this year. The same applies for the Horse Transportation Safety Act. "We are hopeful [it] will get included on this year's transportation reauthorization bill," Morgan says.
The Repayment Enhancement Act, which directly addresses the high debt load of veterinary education, exempts those awarded funds through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (designed to spur veterinarians to work in high-need areas) from income and employment taxes on those funds. The Horse Transportation Safety Act, associated with the controversial issue of transportation of horses for slaughter, prohibits a person from transporting a horse between states for business purposes in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another.
The AVMA will also devote the remainder of this 113th congressional session to actively defeat the Fairness to Pet Owners Act, which would mandate written veterinary prescriptions to "encourage" competition in the pet pharmaceutical market. The bill was reintroduced to the House in February and a companion bill is expected in the Senate. The first attempt to pass the bill failed in 2012.
If the PAST Act, Repayment Enhancement Act or Horse Transportation Safety Act are not passed before the end of the 113th Congress, the AVMA will advocate reintroduction of the bills in the next Congress. To learn more about the bills on the AVMA's current legislative agenda, go to dvm360.com/legislation2014.