Some fear 'declaw law' sets broad precedent

New Calif. bill would collar local interference in state regulation of professions
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Aug 01, 2008

Sacramento, Calif. — Municipalities won't be able to ban state-sanctioned medical practices if a proposed bill passes in California.

AB 2427 would make it illegal for local governments to prohibit a licensed professional from performing aspects of his or her job that fall within statutory or regulatory definitions of that position.

Assemblyman Mike Eng introduced the bill in February, and many animal-rights groups feared it was written to overturn the West Hollywood declawing ban, originally passed in 2003. The ban was passed with the argument that declawing is an inhumane practice, but the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) sued the city in 2005 to get the law overturned, saying a local government had no right to change the boundaries of a state-controlled profession. The courts initially sided with the CVMA, but in 2007 a state appellate court overturned that ruling and allowed West Hollywood to reinstate the ban, explaining that existing laws didn't pre-empt or prohibit local governments from banning certain aspects of state-controlled professions, but only prevented them from requiring additional local licensing.

Following this ruling, Senate discussion on AB 2427 indicates that state-licensed professionals now fear the door has been opened to allow local governments to start banning a host of medical practices, from declawing to elective cosmetic surgery or even abortion in humans.

Opposition groups and cities with existing bans like West Hollywood were upset about the law in its original state, but CVMA President Dr. Bill Grant II says a line was added to the bill July 1 to state that no laws passed before January 2009 would be affected.

"Our problem is not about declawing, it's about local government overriding state jurisdiction on the practice of medicine," Grant says. "We don't think a local government should be regulating a state-controlled practice of medicine."

The bill would merely draw a line as to how much local laws can interfere with state-regulated issues, he says. Without clarifying existing laws, Grant says the state could be on a slippery slope, with cities banning any procedure they don't agree with.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is backing the CVMA. Campaign finance records show the CVMA has donated more than $150,000 to legislators voting on the bill.

"Basically, we agree with the concept that the profession, like other health-care professions, should be regulated at the state level rather than have a hodgepodge of local municipalities pass their own regulations that, in essence, affect how procedures can be done and who can perform them," says Adrian Hochstadt, the AVMA's assistant director for state legislative and regulatory affairs.

AB 2427 has the support of the California Dental Association, the California Hospital Association and the state veterinary medical board. It's opposed by Action for Animals, the cities of Santa Monica and West Hollywood and the California Animal Association.

The law was up for its third reading by the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee. Its fate was unknown at press time.