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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, shows phone pictures to Sen. Joyce Elliott (right) and Sen. Linda Chesterfield, both Democrats from Little Rock, at the end of Wednesday’s Senate session. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Veterinary technicians and technologists would be able to perform their services away from the physical presence of a veterinarian under a bill that a House committee on Wednesday recommended for approval.

House Bill 1124 -- sponsored by Reps. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, and David Hillman, R-Almyra, and Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia -- would create certifications for veterinary technologist and technician specialist; the state now has a certification for veterinary technician.

The House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development recommended approval of HB1124, which now goes to the House.

Under the legislation, the licensed veterinarian need not be physically present but can give written or oral instructions for the treatment of the animal and must be "readily available" either in person or through electronic and communication technology.

"This is the best way to help rural Arkansas with our vet problem," Vaught said.

Currently, no Arkansas college or university offers a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, and only Arkansas State University at Beebe offers the veterinary technology certification.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

"They all go out of state and don't come back," Vaught said.

According to the state Veterinary Medical Licensing Board roster, there are about 110 licensed veterinary technicians in the state. Under current law, they work with a licensed veterinarian present.

Under current law, a "veterinary technician" has an associate degree from a college-level program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The bill would define a "veterinary technician specialist" as someone who has completed formal education training and testing through a specialty academy approved by the Committee of Veterinary Technician Specialties of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America.

HB1124 would define a "veterinary technologist" as someone who is a graduate of a four-year baccalaureate program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

All three must be licensed by the state Veterinary Medical Examining Board.

Cody Burkham, executive vice president of the Arkansas Cattlemen's Association, told the committee that he hopes the bill is the "first step of several that" will be taken to address the shortage of large-animal veterinarians in Arkansas.

"I'm not one to exaggerate the problem," Burkham said. "I don't think it's hyperbole to say there's a crisis in rural American farm country."

According to the veterinary board, 987 veterinarians are licensed in Arkansas. Of those, 749 live in the state. Others are from states including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri.

Nearly 200 are from Northwest Arkansas, the home of several poultry-processing plants.

"You simply cannot find large-animal vets," Burkham said. "They are scheduled weeks, months in advance."

Veterinarian technicians and technologists have primarily offered technical support to veterinarians or researchers. They can conduct physical examinations and take a patient history, provide client education, care for a hospitalized patient, do lab work, administer medication and vaccines, and provide dental prophylaxis. They can also assist in radiology, anesthesiology and surgery.

Under HB1124, technicians and technologists would have limited powers when it comes to administering medical care and pharmaceuticals, especially controlled substances, without a veterinarian physically present.

The technicians could administer antibiotics, for example, but not narcotic pain medications. They could not perform a diagnosis or surgery or prescribe medications, appliances or treatment unless otherwise determined by the board.

"I'm still hung up on this collaborative agreement," Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, said. "Do they report back to the vet?"

Vaught explained that, according to the law, the technicians and technologists are employees of the veterinarian, who is responsible and liable for their performance.

Under HB1124, their salary would come from the veterinarian, and they would not be able to receive a fee or other compensation.

"They will not be able to put out their own shingle," Vaught said.

The legislation would likely mean a pay increase for the technicians and technologists "because they'll be able to do a lot more than they were allowed to do," Vaught said.

Rodney Baker of Capital Concepts, who was at Wednesday's meeting as a representative of the Arkansas Veterinary Association, told lawmakers that the association backs the bill.

He said the legislation would not stop a veterinarian from having more than one location, but it would not allow the vet to have a separate office staffed only with a licensed technician or technologist.

"You're not going to get good health care for these animals if you've got one location with one veterinarian and 15 offices out here," Baker said.

Wardlaw said he foresees problems for the licensing board.

"They're going to have to sanction somebody and then they're going to be in a lawsuit, so they'd better come up with some pretty strict rules and regulations about how that's going to be done," Wardlaw said. "I just think there's going to be problems."

Baker said he was sure there would be bumps in the road ahead.

"This is the fastest way to get some help with some of these husbandry practices out there," he said.

Calendar

The calendar of public events of the 92nd General Assembly for today, the fourth day of the 2019 regular session.

COMMITTEES

9 a.m. House Education Committee, Room 138.

9 a.m. House Judiciary Committee, Room 149.

9 a.m. House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, Room 130.

9 a.m. House Revenue & Taxation Committee, Room 151.

Upon adjournment of the House, House Management Committee, 4th floor conference room.

10 a.m. Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee, Room 171.

10 a.m. Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, Old Supreme Court chamber.

SENATE

11 a.m. Senate convenes.

HOUSE

10 a.m. House convenes.

Metro on 01/17/2019

Print Headline: House panel favors veterinary bill

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