Before you click "play" on the video, please take a minute to read this text so you will know what you are watching.
It's time for the politics of horsecare again. Or is it the politics of veterinary care?
We're back in Little Rock, Arkansas, and here are the gentlemen of the House Agriculture, Forestry & Natural Resources Permanent Subcommittee of Agriculture. They need to review all bills under their jurisdiction before they are presented to the legislature. We met them before, in late January, when they heard testimony on House Bill 1099 (video of that hearing is also posted). H.B. 1099 would have exempted a long list of animal care professionals from the all-encompassing but loosely defined description of veterinary medicine in the Arkansas Veterinary Practice Act. That bill was not voted forward by the committee.
So Representative Gary Smith came back again on March 9, with House Bill 1712. This bill was much more specific and only dealt with horsecare. In particular, 1712 would have exempted massage therapy, tooth floating, and farriery and hoofcare, although it would have created a state certification program for equine dental technicians.
The video you'll see in this video begins as the hearing for House Bill 1712. It, however, morphed into a presentation of a second bill; likewise, farriery and hoofcare morphed into "the lawful practice of horseshoeing". There is considerable discussion of what the lawful (or unlawful) practice of horseshoeing might be.
This is a very long discussion, but probably worth your time to have a listen. The second bill, known as House Bill 1763, was received more favorably and seems to be a compromise favored by the state veterinary board. Please note, however, that HB1763 is marked by the state government as "re-referred to committee" on the official state web site rather than approved. Reports in the press indicate that the bill was approved. This is a discrepancy.
For those who don't want to go through the video, the second bill went through an amendment process, in part to clarify the description of horseshoeing. The bill was amended to read: Arkansas Code § 17-101-307(b), concerning the practices that are excluded from the practice of veterinary medicine, is amended to read as follows: (b) This chapter shall not be construed to prohibit: (8) Any person: (A) Engaging in the art or profession of horseshoeing.
The meeting to amend HB 1763 was not videotaped, or the video is not available to the public.
If HB 1763 passes the legislature, it does not exempt massage therapy and tooth floating indefinitely; it only gives them a two-year moratorium from cease-and-desist orders from the veterinary board. After two years, some other bill should be waiting in the wings to take over, or these horse professionals may not be able to work in Arkansas.
Hopefully other states can learn from what is going on in these midwest states (Oklahoma and Texas are two other states with recent legislation) as they struggle with the interpretation of what veterinary medicine is, and isn't. According to the existing law in many states, veterinary medicine pretty much encompasses all care of animals. The time to have exempted professions was back when the draft veterinary practice act was introduced, but no one's ears were up then, or else no one ever thought that cease-and-desist letters would be sent out.
It seems pretty obvious that efforts to combine large and small animals or even cattle and horses, or to combine different professions makes it difficult for legislators and for people from agencies and businesses who would testify. It may be that it's every profession for itself. Arkansas has proven that quite clearly.
Another thing that seems obvious is that the legislators are looking for highly credible testimonies on these subjects. There's no question that they don't know much about the flow of services, or what happens when a horseowner needs some work done on a horse. Before this legislation came up, they probably never gave it a thought beyond the fact that they knew that veterinarians make barn calls. They're getting an education and they're learning that the horse industry in their state employs a lot of people on a lot of levels. And it takes a support crew of professionals of many descriptions to keep a stable of horses adequately prepared for showing, racing or even just recreational riding.
No one who is elected by public votes wants to put people out of work, yet the state government is in the business of enforcing the laws and legislation it has on its books. These legislators have to stand behind their government's previous actions. Change may be necessary, but it may also be incremental...and painstakingly slow.
If I lived in Arkansas and was working in any of these professions, I think I would slow the process down even further and ask for more amendment to HB 1763 by defining each of the professions the way that tooth floating is defined. If someone has a natural hoofcare practice and does not engage in horseshoeing per se, is he or she not exempt? Must a shoe be on the horse for this law to stick? Now's the time to find that out, not when a cease-and-desist letter arrives in the mail. And to get it printed in the bill, not in a verbal assurance.
Maybe you're one of the people affected by legislative rumblings in Arkansas or other states. Maybe you're hoping this will just go away. Be careful what your wish is: it will be back, if people care about preserving your profession. If no one cares, your profession may be lost in a legislative or legal shuffle one day, and your livelihood along with it.
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