FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation that would untie veterinarians’ hands to report animal abuse passed out of the state Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday.
The measure, known as Senate Bill 21, would allow veterinarians to report the abuse of animals under their care, said Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, who sponsored the legislation.
Veterinarians are currently prohibited by law from reporting abuse of animals under their care unless they have the permission of the animal’s owner or are under a court.
“In fact, Kentucky is the only state where the veterinarian cannot report,” said Dr. Jim Weber, the legislative chair of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association (KVMA). “In every other state in the country, a veterinarian either ‘may’ or ‘shall’ report.”
Weber said the KVMA supports language in SB 21, which would allow veterinarians to use their best judgment when reporting suspected animal abuse. He said it is his preference to educate an animal owner on proper care rather than report something to police.
A second provision of SB 21 would grant veterinarians immunity in court for reporting any alleged abuse.
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said she couldn’t support legislation that contained an immunity clause for veterinarians. She said a veterinarian who falsely reported animal abuse shouldn’t be protected by such a blanket provision.
Weber said the immunity clause gave SB 21 teeth because it would remove a veterinarian’s fear of being sued for reporting suspected animal abuse.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said veterinarians are often small business owners.
“It seems to me there is a good balance in this bill,” he said. “Veterinarians are not going to abuse it because they don’t want their business to be harmed, but on the flip side there is the immunity from prosecution for doing the right thing.”
Weber also told committee members to think of SB 21 as more than an animal welfare bill. He said the measure was also a public health bill.
Weber then referenced federal government research on co-occurring animal abuse and interpersonal violence, including domestic, child and elder abuses. Weber added that such findings have led to calls for greater coordination between human and animal welfare organizations to identify abusers and get help to the victims – whether human or animal.
SB 21 now goes to the Senate for the full body’s consideration.