Alabama House Bill 156 (HB 156), otherwise known as the Spay-Neuter Clinic Protection Bill, recently passed the state House by a vote of 73-23 and the Senate by a vote of 27-3. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, and would allow veterinarians to be employed by non-veterinarians in Alabama's nonprofit spay and neuter facilities.
Under current Alabama law, veterinarians are prohibited from being employed under these conditions unless covered by an exemption. If passed into law, HB 156 would add an exemption to allow employment of a veterinarian at a nonprofit facility, provided the facility performs only spay and neuter surgeries, designates a licensed veterinarian to supervise veterinary medical practice, meets the minimum standards set by the Alabama Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and receives a permit for the premises approved by the board. In addition, the facility would be subject to onsite inspections as determined by the board.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently submitted a letter in support of the bill, stating that HB 156 is likely to benefit the public by increasing consumer access to, and choices for, spay and neuter services for their pets. The FTC maintains that while certain professional licensure requirements are necessary to protect consumers, some restrictions—such as preventing licensed professionals from being employed by non-licensed persons or firms—may actually reduce competition and consumer choice by preventing the emergence of new, more efficient forms of professional practices.
"Studies have shown that such restrictions can act as barriers to entry by new competitors, and consumers may end up paying higher prices as a result," the FTC's letter states. "By contrast, consumers benefit when professionals have the ability to develop more efficient ways to offer their services to consumers at a comparable level of quality."
The FTC also points out that the bill provides a number of safeguards to ensure that the quality of spaying or neutering services is the same, regardless of whether the facility is owned by a veterinarian or a nonprofit.
The Alabama Veterinary Medical Association (ALVMA) did not take an official position on the bill, as a consensus either in support of or against the bill could not be reached among its constituents. "Essentially, we want to do what's best for pets," says Dr. Kirk Holland, president of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association. "If veterinarians are upholding the standards set by the Alabama Veterinary Practice Act, wherever they're practicing, that's the main thing that matters."
Other parties, however, have been much more deliberate in taking a position. Groups such as Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL) have been campaigning in favor of HB 156 for weeks, gathering support from like-minded members of the general public and Alabama's veterinary community through social media channels.
In addition to asking supporters to contact their state representatives and senators to vote in favor of HB 156, the has group posted a letter from Robert Pitman, DVM, an Alabama State Board of Veterinary Examiners (ASBVE) board member. In the letter, as posted by AVRAL on Facebook, Pitman states, "The ASBVE adamantly opposes this legislation that would allow every 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization to own a clinic, such as humane societies, rescue groups, volunteer fire department, wild turkey federation, bingo club, etc. This is certainly not in the best interest of the pet-owning public." ASBVE did not respond to phone calls or emails requesting comment.
Additionally, the Birmingham News, recently published an editorial piece on in support of HB 156, stating, "As the law exists, a licensed veterinarian must own any clinic in which veterinary services are performed. That's ridiculous, and is clearly intended to suppress competition. A licensed physician doesn't have to own the hospital in which he works. A licensed dentist doesn't have to own the dental practice where he works. A licensed pharmacist doesn't have to own the pharmacy where he works." The editorial board has called on the state Legislature's Sunset Committee, which will review the Alabama Board of Veterinary Examiners next year, 'to take a close look at how the board operates, how it conducts its meetings, its leadership and its interference with progressive legislation that would make the lives of animals better and help pet owners be more responsible.' The editorial goes on to say, "It can cost as much as $300 or more to have an animal sterilized at a private veterinary clinic, while a nonprofit spay/neuter clinic can do the surgery for about $45 to $80. There's plenty of business to go around, because Alabama has an unhealthy overpopulation of dogs and cats."
And while the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has not weighed in on the bill, its recently adopted policy on the delivery of veterinary services by nonprofit organizations points out the benefits that these kinds of groups provide to underserved pet owners and society in general, stating, "Veterinary not-for-profit and tax-exempt clinics and hospitals provide access to important medical and surgical services for animals owned by the indigent and otherwise underserved populations. Without such charitable services, these animal owners would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to care for their animals appropriately. Improved access to care not only helps ensure that the welfare of animals is protected, but also helps address public health concerns that may be associated with preventable zoonotic diseases, such as rabies. In addition, many not-for-profit organizations, including community animal shelters and animal control agencies, provide a benefit to society through rescuing, sheltering, rehabilitating and finding good homes for animals."
HB 156 is currently in a conference committee in the Alabama Legislature.