By Stella Gerson
On October 7, 2021, Governor Newsom signed the Veterinary Medical Board of California’s (VMB) sunset extension bill, AB 1535 (Committee on Business and Professions) (Chapter 631, Statutes of 2021), which extends the Board’s sunset date to January 1, 2026. This bill makes changes to the Veterinary Practice Act based on issues identified in the VMB’s Sunset Review Report, the legislature’s Background Paper, and those identified during the VMB’s sunset review oversight hearing held on March 3, 2021. [26:2 CRLR 93–97] On September 10, 2021, the Assembly concurred in the Senate amendments that were ultimately included in the final version of the bill. Key amendments are highlighted as follows:
Elimination of the California Board Examination. AB 1535 eliminates the requirement that a veterinarian completes a California state board examination and makes conforming changes to provisions related to out-of-state, temporary, and university licenses. At its January 28, 2021, meeting [Agenda item 8] the Board voted on various amendments to the examination and licensing of veterinary professionals using guidance from the DCA’s Office of Professional Examination Services (OPES) report. [See 26:2 CRLR 93–94] Previously, to obtain licensure as a veterinarian, an applicant needed to pass three examinations: (1) a national examination, known as the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE); (2) a California state board examination (CSBE) and (3) a veterinary law examination of California rules, statutes, and regulations (CVLE). As a result of AB 1535, a candidate would only need to pass a national examination and a veterinary law examination administered by the Board.
Changes to Veterinary Premises Registration. California law requires all premises where veterinary medicine, dentistry, and surgery are practiced to be registered with the Board. An application for premises registration must contain the name of the responsible licensee manager (known as the MGL), who is to act on behalf of the licensed premises. The MGL must also submit to a criminal background check, in which the Board has the authority to deny license and registration applications for convictions and discipline by public agencies. However, existing law was unclear about who is required to be involved in the premise registration and the extent of the Board’s authority. For example, previously, the law did not require that the owner or operator of the veterinary premises be the premises registration applicant or be identified on the application at all.
AB 1535 implements three categories of changes related to veterinary premises registration to address these issues. The bill (1) defines that the term “veterinary premises” refers to the location of operation where veterinary medicine, dentistry, and surgery is being practiced; (2) requires that any owner, operator, officer, director, shareholder, or general partner be openly identified on a premises application, and report any changes to the Board within 30 days; and (3) clarifies the Board’s enforcement authority.
Safeguards Related to the Corporate Practice of Veterinary Medicine. The current regulatory and statutory law does not explicitly prohibit general corporate ownership or operation of a veterinary medical practice. AB 1535 includes provisions for veterinary corporations to be identified on a premise permit application and explicitly prohibits a premise registration holder that is not a California-licensed veterinarian to interfere with, control, or direct the professional judgment of any California licensed veterinarian or registered veterinary technician. To enforce this provision, AB 1535 also authorizes the Board to require information necessary for regulation such as employment contracts and background checks.
Changes to the Board’s Drug and Alcohol Diversion Program. AB 1535 changes the Board’s Diversion Program that identifies and rehabilitates veterinarians and RVTs who suffer from alcohol or drug abuse addiction. The Board highlighted the need for substantive changes to Diversion after their Sunset Report revealed that program participation has been historically low. Under current law, participants in the program are required to pay a flat fee of $2,000, which can be increased to a statutory maximum of $4,000. AB 1535 eliminates the flat registration fee and instead requires participants to pay the administrative costs for the program to sustain the Board’s funds if more participants begin to enroll. AB 1535 also makes changes to the Board’s Diversion Evaluation Committee (DEC), which assists in administering the program. Currently, the law requires that the Board meets and votes to appoint and dismiss members of the DEC. AB 1535 contains a provision authorizing the Board’s president to suspend any diversion evaluation committee member pending an investigation into allegations of existing alcohol or drug addiction and remove the member if there is evidence of relapse. Lastly, the bill changes the term “diversion” to “wellness” in the context of the Board’s drug and alcohol abuse recovery program, as the Board recognized that the negative connotations of the term “diversion” might deter professionals from using the program.
Changes to Animal Shelter Veterinary Medicine. In the past few years, California animal shelters have reached out to the Board for guidance on the protocols for providing veterinary medicine in the absence of the supervising veterinarian. One of the more challenging requirements for animal shelters to meet, especially rural shelters, is having a licensed veterinarian maintain a physical presence within the facility at all times. AB 1535 attempts to address concerns regarding the minimum standard of care in animal shelters. This bill includes provisions that authorize public animal control agencies or shelters and humane society shelters that are not registered under a premises permit with the Board, to provide limited care. For example, with the passing of AB 1535, animal shelters are now able to administer vaccinations to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and nonprescription medications for parasites without the presence of a veterinarian. The bill requires shelters to have protocols written by a California veterinarian, and that the person providing care has received proper training. Further, AB 1535 explicitly defines proper training for shelter staff providing care and requires shelters to report any adverse event resulting in significant injuries or deaths from the care provided.
All the new amendments to the Board’s enabling act, section 4800, et seq. of the Business and Professions Code in AB 1535, become effective on January 1, 2022.