TVMA Legislative Update: Part 3
Our first legislative update took a closer look at the three bills that passed from TVMA’s legislative agenda this session, CLICK HERE for details. Our second legislative update took a closer look at some of the bills TVMA opposed that did not pass, CLICK HERE for details. Part three of our legislative update takes a look at some of the other bills that did pass to become law this session that may impact veterinarians.
Bills TVMA Supported or Actively Supported That Passed To Become Law
HB 365 by Rep. Murr, relating to liability arising from farm animals. This bill expands the scope of the Texas Farm Animal Liability Act (FALA) to cover ranchers and their employees and contractors engaging in routine farm and livestock activities. From FALA's creation in 2011 until June 2020, many assumed that these new liability limitations already existed. However, the Texas Supreme Court somewhat surprisingly ruled that ranchers were not covered under the existing act. HB 365 greatly expands the definition of "farm animal activity," "engages in a farm animal activity" and "farm animal professional.”
SB 474, by Rep. Lucio, relating to the unlawful restraint of a dog; creating a criminal offense. This bill repeals the existing laws governing the restraint of a dog and replaces them with provisions that prohibit knowingly leaving a dog outside and unattended by use of a restraint unless the owner has provided access to adequate shelter, an area that allows the dog to avoid standing water and any other substance that could cause harm to the health of the dog, shade from direct sunlight and potable water. Also prohibits the use of a chain or a restraint that is weighted, shorter than the greater of five times the length of the dog or 10 feet, unattached to a properly fitted harness or collar or that caused pain or injury to the dog. Does not apply to a restraint attached to a trolley system that allows a dog to move along a running line for a distance equal to or greater than those specified lengths. There are many exceptions to the bill’s provisions including walking, camping, recreation, training, hunting, working, temporarily leaving a dog unattended in an open-air truck bed, etc.
HB 1958 by Rep. Gonzalez, relating to the regulation of livestock export-import processing facilities; creating a criminal offense. This bill requires export-import facilities on the border with Mexico to notify the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) within 24 hours of when an animal received or held at the facility animals is rejected for export due to inadequate records, disease or pest concerns. These high-risk rejected animals currently do not have movement restrictions and, at times, have moved from an export-import facility directly to a Texas premises without appropriate testing, treatment or disease and pest mitigation. The bill allows the TAHC to take action to mitigate disease exposure and threats from these high-risk livestock animals.
HB 3132 by Rep. Smithee, relating to the performance of equine dentistry by students of equine dental provider certification programs. This bill provides that students of board-approved certification programs may perform equine dentistry if they are under direct veterinary supervision and are completing the practical requirements of a certification program.
SB 1997, Sen. Springer and Rep. Glenn Rogers, DVM, relating to animal disease control by the Texas Animal Health Commission; providing an administrative penalty. This bill updates the law to change the term “hog cholera” to “classical swine fever” and provides that the vaccine is limited to veterinary and regulatory use because it contains the live virus and is on the federal list of controlled biological agents and toxins. The bill also allows the Texas Animal Health Commission to adopt rules for the methods of disease eradication that are more stringent than the federal rules if passed by two-thirds vote.
Other Passed Legislation That May Impact Veterinarians
SB 6 by Sen. Hancock, relating to liability for certain claims arising during a pandemic or disaster related to a pandemic. This bill is fairly complex and covers a variety of pandemic exposure liability protections for individuals, human healthcare providers and businesses. Business owners will be most interested in provisions that retroactively make it much harder to sue for COVID-19-related injuries or death claims if the business was generally following government standards during the pandemic. To prevail in a claim, a plaintiff would have to show that a defendant knowingly failed to warn of or to fix a condition within its control that they knew made it likely the injured person would become exposed to a pandemic disease, or the defendant knowingly failed to comply with government standards that were meant to limit exposure to that disease. A plaintiff also would have to show that the defendant’s failure was the cause-in-fact of the plaintiff contracting the disease.
HB 604, by Rep. Noble relating to a microchip scan of animals in the custody of an animal shelter or releasing agency, including an animal rescue organization. This bill requires any animal shelter or releasing agency, including an animal rescue organization, to scan any animal placed in its custody for a microchip as soon as is practical.
HB 3856, by Rep. Glenn Rogers, DVM, relating to administrative penalties imposed by the Texas Animal Health Commission. This bill increases the penalty for a violation from $1,000 per day to $5,000 per day to bring it in line with other agencies. TAHC does not have the authority to assess penalties on a per-head basis with large trailer loads of animals entering the state, and so the penalty is assessed on a per-trailer basis. A $1,000 penalty is not an adequate deterrent for repeat offenders who have reportedly been treating the penalty as a cost of doing business (common violations include sale of dairy cattle without proper identification, sale or congregation of horses without proof of negative disease status and movement of animals without valid health certificates). The TAHC assessed only one administrative penalty in 2019.
SB 713 by Sen. Buckingham, relating to the sunset review process and certain governmental entities subject to that process. This was the sunset bill for a number of state agencies including the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (TBVME), which now has a sunset review date of 2029. However, the Sunset Advisory Commission will be required to conduct a special purpose review of the board within the next two years that is limited to the implementation of the board's database system and processes and procedures for collecting and analyzing data. The Sunset Commission's recommendations to the 88th Legislature in 2023 could include any recommendation considered appropriate based on the outcome of the special-purpose review. The state auditor is required to conduct an effectiveness audit of the board to evaluate its implementation of the data-related recommendations submitted by the commission and submit findings to the Sunset Commission.
SB 705 by Sen. Lucio, relating to the continuation and functions of the Texas Animal Health Commission. This was the sunset bill for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) that does a large number of things, including continuing the agency for an additional 12 years as an independent, standalone agency. Importantly, the bill closed the state and federal laboratory and transferred all functions to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL). The TAHC also will be required to periodically analyze violation types and disposition to determine persons who are repeat offenders and commit the most serious offenses. The bill eliminates statutory lists specifying the animal diseases that require control, eradication or reporting in favor of adopting and updating rules listing those diseases. Quarantine areas also will be listed in rules rather than statute and initially can be established by the Executive Director/State Veterinarian. The bill authorizes the TAHC to adopt rules more stringent than the rules related to federal minimum standards for eradicating swine diseases if approved by a two-thirds vote of the commission. The bill also would authorize TAHC to require the reporting within 24 hours of diagnosis of a disease recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a reportable disease. The commission also can require the slaughter or sale for slaughter of an animal infected with or exposed to such a disease.