The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 9, 2012

Lawmakers intercede in fight over low-cost spay-neuter clinics

Vets association also requests rule-change delay

ATHENS — A request from five Alabama senators could keep the state’s four low-cost spay and neuter clinics in business.

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, made public Tuesday a letter dated Oct. 4 in which he and four other senators asked the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to refrain from voting on a rule change that would all but close the state’s four low-cost, nonprofit spay and neuter clinics.

The letter is signed by Holtzclaw, Sen. Del Marsh, Sen. Cam Ward, Sen. Slade Blackwell and Sen. Jerry Fielding.

Meanwhile the state Veterinary Medical Association, which represents 750 members or about 75 percent of the state’s veterinarians, has also written a letter to the ASBVME asking board members to delay action until the legislative session.

The letters follow mounting pressure from opponents of the ASBVME’s proposed rule changes, which would:

• Prevent nonveterinarians from hiring or supervising veterinarians;

• Prevent nonvets — including nonprofit groups — from owning veterinary equipment.

Clinic owners say the board is simply trying to eliminate the clinics because they compete with private veterinarians. The four low-cost clinics, which are owned independently by separate nonprofit groups, have performed about 100,000 spay and neuter surgeries.

The letters

The letter sent by the five senators to the ASBVME states that a proposed bill that would have allowed the clinics garnered support last session but “died in the basket” as lawmakers ran out of time in the session. The letter reads:

“It is our understanding that as a rule making body, working within the legislative authority granted by statute, that you are considering imposing a new rule that will limit or restrict low-cost spay/neuter clinics from operating in Alabama. (The title of the rule is ‘Exercise of Independent Professional Judgement by Veterinarians; Prohibited Business Arrangements or Relationships.’)

“As we are all aware, House Bill 156, introduced by Rep. Patricia Todd, was heavily debated during the 2012 regular legislative session. Legislators received numerous emails and phone calls from both sides of the issue throughout the legislative session, and the bill was tirelessly worked by both parties. Through the spirit of cooperation, the bill received no less than six amendments and a version of HB 156 passed the House with 73 ‘yes’ votes and 26 ‘no’ votes. A further amended version passed the Senate with 27 ‘yes’ votes. In the end, due to time constraints within the 2012 session, no final action was taken and the bill ‘died in the basket.’

“It is apparent that both sides are passionate about this matter and work remains to be done. Therefore, we respectfully request that no rule changes be implemented that would affect the current status of low-cost spay and neuter clinics from operating in Alabama. This matter should be taken up again in the 2013 Legislative Session (convening in February) and through continued collaborative efforts, we are confident that a solution can be crafted which both sides are able to support.”

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