By Jordan Bourque
On December 1, 2019, the Veterinary Medical Board (VMB) published its Sunset Review Report in preparation for VMB’s Sunset Review Oversight hearing before the Assembly Business and Professions Committee and the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee. Due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 global pandemic, sunset review for the Board was delayed into 2021. The Board’s enabling act, section 4800, et seq. of the Business and Professions Code is scheduled to “sunset” or be repealed on January 1, 2022, if it is not extended during sunset review.
VMB’s report includes a summary of the Board’s activities over the past four years, updates the legislature regarding issues raised during its previous sunset review, and identifies eleven new issues the Board would like the legislature to consider during the sunset review period. Of note, 75% of the Board’s current workforce was hired since the last sunset review, including two managers and the Executive Officer. After the hiring of the new managers and the Executive Officer, the Board began restructuring units to better address operational needs and increased workload. Since the last Sunset Review, twenty-five bills affecting the Board were introduced and/or enacted, the Board approved twenty regulation changes, and the Board contracted with a third-party vendor to conduct an audit on the Board’s functions to determine if the current fee structure was adequate to sustain the Board.
The Board presented eleven new issues to address: (1) general corporations that own or operate veterinary premises and use employment contracts to control the provision of veterinary medical care to animal patients; (2) funding for animal cannabis research; (3) veterinary premises registration and licensee managers; (4) unlicensed practice categorized as exempt practices; (5) reciprocity license clinical practice hours and whether foreign experience is counted as valid experience; (6) the Diversion Evaluation Committee (DEC) composition, specifically the addition of a provision allowing for the suspension of DEC members pending an investigation into allegations of existing alcohol or drug addiction; (7) program costs versus diversion program registration fees; (8) abandoned applications; (9) change of applicant addresses; (10) veterinarians claiming to be “specialists”; and (11) drug compounding.
In preparation for VMB’s Joint Sunset Review Oversight hearing, committee staff issued a background paper for members of the respective Business and Professions committees, which provides background about the Board, updates the committees on the changes and improvements VMB made regarding the twelve issues from the previous sunset review, and identifies thirty-three new issues to raise with the Board during the sunset review process.
Among its listed concerns, the legislature asks whether the caps for licensing fee increases should be raised again, as the Board is now charging licensees the statutory maximums. The legislature raises concerns of the Board’s record-keeping protocols concerning applicant’s files who were denied a license due to prior criminal convictions and requests that VMB attempt to locate missing files on those applicants, review existing record-keeping protocols, and ensure that all files are appropriately maintained. The legislature also asks whether the Board has recommendations to address concerns regarding minimum standard of care in animal shelters and requests that VMB discuss its draft regulation regarding minimum standards of care in animal shelters, outline any additional recommendations regarding concerns of veterinarian shortages working in shelter settings, and concerns about facility standards for animal shelters. The legislature additionally asks whether existing law should be amended to increase access to veterinary services via telehealth and requests the Board provide an update on its discussions around telehealth and telemedicine and advise if there are statutory changes that could facilitate increased access to services while maintaining high standards of veterinary care. The legislature also raises concern of the growing enforcement backlogs and timelines and requests the Board inform the Committees on its strategies to address these issues.
At the Joint Sunset Review Oversight hearing on March 3, 2021, the Board’s President, Dr. Mark Nunez, as well as Vice President, public member Kathy Bowler, appeared on behalf of the Board, accompanied by Executive Officer, Jessica Sieferman. After their initial presentation, the Board members addressed questions from members of the committees as to the cost of BreEZe implementation; licensing fees; minimum standard of care for animal shelters and lack of veterinarians in animal shelters; the Board’s enforcement backlogs; and the value of telehealth for veterinary medicine.
The committee also heard comments from members of the public as to the Board’s performance. At least fifteen members of the public argued in opposition of the Board’s current animal physical therapy rulemaking package and supported inclusion of a legislative solution that allows licensed physical therapists to perform animal physical therapy under the direct or indirect guidance of a veterinarian. One member of the public opposed veterinary telemedicine and two supported. Representatives from various animal shelters argued that the requirement to have registered veterinarians on site to administer vaccinations and flea medication limits rural communities from having access to affordable and safe access to veterinary care. At least five registered veterinary technicians (RVTs) opposed the RVT fee increase, and two commenters argued that RVTs should be clearly identified as RVTs. Three commenters argued that AB 384 (Kalra), that would allow cannabis for animals, needs more restrictions, specifically that veterinarians should prescribe medicinal cannabis for animal patients and that it should only be obtained through medical cannabis providers. Concerning the corporate ownership of veterinary medical offices, two commenters argued in support but stated that the Board should collect more data on the matter. Finally, one commenter argued for a requirement that section 4829.5 of the Business and Professions Code be displayed at veterinary clinics and hospitals to inform consumers that they have an option to receive information on the medicines being prescribed and used on their animals.
SB 1535 (Committee on Business and Professions), as introduced on February 19, 2021, would amend sections 4800, 4803.5, and 4841.5 to extend the Board’s sunset date. The bill would also make nonsubstantive changes to the executive officer provision and limit the examination for veterinary technicians to a national licensing examination.