California bill on animal physical rehabilitation dies

Effort fails to sidestep veterinary medical board objections

Published: May 25, 2018
By Lisa Wogan

Legislation that would have established training and permitting requirements in California for physical therapists to work with animals did not pass the state Assembly Appropriations Committee today, effectively killing the bill for the session.

A controversial proposal, AB 3013 would have allowed certified animal physical rehabilitation therapists with a veterinarian's referral to work on a patient away from the referring veterinarian's premises.

Assembly Member Kansen Chu, a Democrat representing the San Jose area, introduced the bill in February. He said he wanted to expand opportunity for physical therapists and options for pet owners. The bill was sponsored by the Animal Physical Therapy Coalition. 

Opposition came from the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB) and registered veterinary technicians. In an alert sent to its membership in March, the CVMA was particularly critical about the referral approach, warning: “This proposed model puts the animal at risk and puts undue liability on the referring veterinarian.”

Proponents of the bill said it was an attempt to codify the recommendations of an Animal Rehabilitation Task Force established by the CVMB in 2016. That task force — comprised of physical therapists, veterinarians and others — recommended training and certification for physical therapists who wanted to work with animals, including away from a veterinarian’s premises. The CVMB rejected those recommendations.

Speaking about the legislation in April, Chu’s chief of staff, John Nam, described the task force proceedings as too narrow. “Only a small number of stakeholders actually knew that this was happening,” he said. “Now with the legislative process, it’s much more of a public dialogue. We can just see how it goes from here.”

A Business and Professions Committee hearing on the bill in April drew testimony from 32 people, who were equally divided in support and opposition. The bill passed to Appropriations on a 9-0 vote. 

A fiscal-impact analysis of AB 3013 prepared by Appropriations Committee staff estimated $600,000 in one-time costs and $125,000 in annual expenses for the veterinary medical board, as well as $100,000 over two years for the physical therapy board. It assumed that 250 individuals would register and pay a $1,000 fee every other year to help cover costs, with fee increases likely.

Since rejecting its task force’s recommendations, the CVMB has been working on revisions to the veterinary practice act to specify that animal physical rehabilitation is included in the practice of veterinary medicine, and to define the circumstances under which registered veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants can provide animal rehabilitation. There is no role for physical therapists in the current draft.

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