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  News from the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association                                                    Summer 2010

2010 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Wrap-Up

by William E. Erskine, Esquire

MVMA leaders spent the day on Capitol Hill meeting with representatives of United States senators and representatives to lobby for veterinarians in both Maryland and the United States. Pictured from left to right: John R. Brooks, DVM.; Richard(Dick) P. Streett Jr., VMD.; James B. Reed, DVM.; Janet Lynn Peterson, DVM., DACVIM; John Paul O’Mara, DVM.

In accordance with the Maryland Constitution, the Maryland General Assembly met again this year in Annapolis for 90 days to act on more than 2300 bills including the State’s annual budget. The 427th Session began on January 13, 2010 and adjourned April 12, 2010. As has been the case in recent years, budgetary issues dominated the 2010 legislative session. In comparison to past years, relatively fewer animal related bills were introduced this year – perhaps due to the focus on the budget.

Among the bills considered and passed this year was SB 62 – Maryland Horse Industry Fund - Fees. This bill was introduced for the purpose of requiring revenue collected by the Maryland Horse Industry Board to be paid into the Maryland Horse Industry Fund as opposed to the general fund for the State of Maryland. In addition this bill increased the annual license and license renewal fee for Horse Riding Stables from $50 to $75; it also increased the annual inspection fee for Horse Riding Stables from $25 to $50. This law is intended to allow the Maryland Horse Industry Board to repay the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (SBVME) the cost of administrative services. This new law was supported by the Maryland Horse Council.

SB 90 – Secretary of Agriculture – Farm Quarantine as approved by the General Assembly establishes requirements applicable to the establishment of a quarantine or issuance of an order and establishes various related powers of the Secretary of Agriculture, including the authority to call upon law enforcement for information or assistance, seek an injunction against violations of the bill’s provisions or a valid order or farm quarantine, and to apply for and execute a search warrant. The bill also prohibits a person from resisting the application of a quarantine or order or concealing that a farm has been exposed to or contaminated by any radiological or chemical agent or toxic material or has been infected or infested with any disease or pest. The bill authorizes a quarantine or order to provide for civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation. According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the new law will expand the department’s existing authority relative to animals and plants to include threats other than biological agents and will provide new authority to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and radiological agents that may contaminate farmland, crops, and farm products.

Also approved this year was SB 81 - State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners - License Suspensions and Revocations - Maximum Penalties. This departmental bill modifies certain provisions under existing law that currently limit the amount of a monetary penalty the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (SBVME) may impose to $5,000. This new law specifies that in lieu of or in addition to suspension of a license, or in addition to revocation of the license, the board may impose a penalty of up to $5,000 for a first offense. For a second or subsequent offense, in addition to suspension or revocation of the license, the board may now impose a penalty of up to $10,000.

The SBVME is responsible for licensing and registering veterinarians, licensing and inspecting veterinary hospitals, licensing animal control facilities, and registering veterinary technicians. There are currently 2,471 licensed and registered veterinarians, 506 licensed veterinary hospitals, and 29 licensed animal control facilities.

The SBVME regulations establish various violations and associated civil penalties for veterinarians for initial and subsequent violations. The SBVME indicates that the $5,000 maximum penalty under existing law is not an effective deterrent of future violations, as evidenced by an increase in the number of repeat violators. The SBVME also notes that the maximum penalty amount has remained the same for over 25 years, while veterinarian salaries have increased. The SBVME advises that the maximum civil penalty may be imposed for various reasons, including instances where a veterinarian has a long history of not particularly egregious violations that has caused increasing penalties to be assessed over time; or for serious cases such as those involving animal neglect.

Between fiscal 2005 and 2009, the SBVME collected an average of $14,745 in general funds per year from civil penalties, with receipts varying from $8,600 in fiscal 2007 to $21,950 in fiscal 2008. The SBVME indicates, however, that fiscal 2008 may be an aberration due to the hiring of a part-time assistant Attorney General who began to catch up on idle disciplinary cases.

Among the bill introduced but not passed this year was HB 1333 – Torts – Pets – Injury or Death. The MVMA on behalf of its members lobbied hard (as it has in past years) against the passage of this legislation. This bill would have altered the calculation of compensatory damages that may be awarded to an owner of a pet for the tortious death of, or injury to the animal. The bill would have repealed an existing statutory provision limiting the maximum compensatory damages awardable in these cases to $7,500. The bill provided that a person who tortiously causes an injury to or death of a pet while acting individually or through an animal under the person’s direction or control would be liable to an owner of the pet for compensatory damages. In the case of the death of a pet, compensatory damages were to be defined as the greater of: (1) the fair market value of the pet immediately before the tortious act or omission that caused the death; or (2) the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care resulting from the tortious act or omission. In the case of an injury to a pet, compensatory damages are the greater of: (1) the difference between the fair market value of the pet immediately before the tortious act or omission that caused the injury and the fair market value of the pet resulting from the tortious act or omission; or (2) the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care resulting from the tortious act or omission.

Under current law, a person who tortiously causes an injury to or death of a pet while acting individually or through an animal under the person’s direction or control is liable to the owner of the pet for compensatory damages, not to exceed $7,500. In the case of the death of a pet, compensatory damages are equal to the fair market value of the pet before its death and the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care. For tortious injury to a pet, compensatory damages equal the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care. The provisions only apply to domesticated animals, not livestock.

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