California legislation would repeal state veterinary exam

Lawmakers meet Monday for hearing on proposed changes

August 11, 2021 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

VIN News Service screenshot
The California Veterinary Medical Board met remotely for months to hash out practice act changes, including whether to eliminate a state test. Board president Dr. Mark Nunez is in the upper right image.

California — one of only two jurisdictions in the country that require veterinarians to pass a state-specific license examination in order to practice in the state — will repeal its test if legislation to update the Veterinary Medicine Practice Act passes. 

AB 1535 invalidates the California State Board Examination (CSBE), effective Jan. 1. The bill, which passed the state Assembly in May, is scheduled to be heard on Monday in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The hearing will be livestreamed on the Senate website

At present, veterinarians must pass three examinations to practice in California: the CSBE, the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam and the Veterinary Law Examination. The NAVLE is required of all veterinarians in the U.S. and Canada before they can practice; the VLE is a California-specific mail-in test on the state practice act and associated regulations. State authorities have found that the CSBE duplicates the NAVLE, and as such, is a barrier to licensure. Passing the NAVLE and VLE will still be required to obtain a license. (Hawaii is the only other jurisdiction that mandates a state-specific exam.)

In addition to eliminating the CSBE, AB 1535 reflects a slew of recommendations from Senate and Assembly business and professions committees, whose members are jointly charged with conducting a sunset review on the California Veterinary Medical Board. All state boards in California periodically come under sunset review. The process invites the Legislature, Department of Consumer Affairs and public to audit the board's performance and make recommendations for improvements. 

Veterinary board members have wrangled with scrapping the CSBE, a $350 computer-based test, since mid-2020. Regulators voted in January to repeal the CSBE and begin the process of restructuring statutes and regulations to reflect that. The change is revenue-neutral, officials say. While the test brings in roughly $190,000 a year, it's not a money-maker for the CVMB, which pays as much to administer it. 

Regarding complexities of the revision, CVMB President Dr. Mark Nunez said during a recent board meeting: "I thought it was hard enough to add regulations. Who knew it would be so difficult to remove some?" 

In brief

In addition to eliminating the CSBE, enacting AB 1535 will: 

  • Revise and raise license and permit fees. 
  • Create a statutory exemption for animal shelters that perform limited veterinary functions, allowing them to bypass CVMB registration for a premises permit.
  • Require registered veterinary technicians and assistants to wear name tags in at least 18-point type that include their license numbers and board-issued credentials. 
  • Expand the CVMB's scope of authority in relation to premises permits of practices owned by non-veterinarians. 
  • Prohibit premises-registration holders who aren't California-licensed veterinarians from interfering with, directing or controlling the professional judgment of any practitioner or registered veterinary technician; and attempting to coerce, extort, intimidate or influence their professional judgment subject to board discipline.
  • Make falsely advertising as a specialist or board-certified practitioner subject to board discipline. 

As an omnibus bill, the contents of AB 1535 are considered uncontroversial. The bill's passage would extend the CVMB's authority until the next sunset review in three to five years. If the bill were to fail, the regulatory board would dissolve.

The California Veterinary Medical Association, which has more than 7,800 members, broadly supports the bill, although the group has expressed concern about the board's fiscal health and how that affects its ability to enforce regulations and serve licensees. In a letter dated Feb. 26 to Rep. Evan Low, chair of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, CVMA Executive Director Dan Baxter characterized the CVMB as "historically both underfunded and understaffed" and listed examples of common communication breakdowns. The CVMB budget for fiscal year 2020-21 is $6.4 million.

"Veterinary professionals, seeking answers to questions regarding how they may obtain a California license or check on the processing of a license renewal are not able to gain information from the [CVMB] office," Baxter wrote. "Their calls and emails go largely unanswered. Some applicants have resorted to driving to the [CVMB] office in Sacramento to resolve their licensing issues."

While the CVMB has made "significant recent efforts" to improve staffing and services, problems are nonetheless recurrent, the letter said.

If AB 1535 passes out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday, it would progress to the Senate floor for a vote. The legislative session ends Sept. 10, and the governor has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto measures.

Update: AB 1535 passed the Legislature and was signed on Oct. 7 by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The state board exam will be eliminated on Jan. 1, and all of those who have pending applications to take the state board exam will be relieved of the requirement.


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