Harsher laws may be in store for violating the Veterinary Medicine Practice Act. The Veterinary Medical Board (the “VMB” or “Board”) is proposing to amend the Civil Penalties for Citation (Section 2043 of Article 5.5, Division 20, Title 16, California Code of Regulations), to impose higher fines and penalties in order to better protect California’s animal patients and their owners.
The goal of the amendment is to serve as an incentive for both licensed and unlicensed individuals to not violate the laws governing veterinary medicine, by deterring negative actions with higher penalties. The proposed changes will strengthen the Board’s ability to enforce its laws and regulations, and provide consumers with additional protection.
(Results based upon an average of 92 citations per year for the past three years).
Paragraphs (a) – (c) define the different classes or levels of violations involving a person engaged in the practice of veterinary medicine. The paragraphs will be reordered so the three categories of violations start with (a) as the least serious and end with (c) as the most serious offence. In the current regulation, this is reversed.
Aside from the drastic increase in the dollar amount of the fines (ranging from a 100-500% increase) as illustrated in the table below, there are a few modifications to the language and terms, and some additional criteria for the classes.
The term “bodily injury” has been replaced with “harm,” since bodily injury is not the only type of harm that could result from a violation. Other types of harm could include fraud, deceptive business practices, improper record-keeping, unprofessional conduct, and deviation from the standard of care.
The criteria for finding a “class B” violation did not change much under the proposed revision. However, the language requiring that the harm to the animal patient to be “significant and substantial in nature” has been eliminated. While “significant and substantial” sounds good, it is not clear and can be limiting. By eliminating this standard, the Board will have more leeway to prescribe this class of citation without having to meet this vague threshold.
The new language will also significantly expand the categories of actions that give rise to a “class C” violation. In the current language, the only justification for the highest fine was to commit three or more “class B” violations within a 24 month period. By adding additional categories of actions that fall under the “class C” violations, the Board can impose penalties for more actions that warrant censure.
Amended subsections (b) and (c) also provide longer “lookback” periods for prior citations. The current law only allows for a two year “lookback” period, while the proposed law will extend this to five years. The longer period provides a longer history to consider when dealing with repeat offenders and evaluating the likelihood they will commit the offense again. The retention and consideration of citation records for five years is consistent with other health regulatory boards.
These increased penalties act as a greater deterrent to undesirable behavior than the previous laws. Under the current law, a $50 fine is not a big deterrent, if at all. The new fine for a “class A” violation will be even higher than any fines currently in effect.
“The good or bad faith exhibited by the cited person” will be eliminated from the list of criteria to consider when assessing civil penalties. This standard is difficult to quantify and is also redundant since other factors address this, i.e., the extent the person has cooperated with the investigation or mitigated damages. The goal of most of these changes, in addition to increasing deterrence, is to clarify and simplify the law so it is easier to apply.
A completely new and necessary addition to the law will be the rule that all situations involving unlicensed persons practicing veterinary medicine a “class C” violation. This is a very serious offense, and as such, deserves the most severe level of citation and fine. The whole purpose of the Board is to regulate the practice of veterinary medicine in order to protect the public from harm. One of the primary ways this is achieved is through licensing those deemed worthy to practice veterinary medicine. Unlicensed individuals are unregulated and a danger to the public. Since no governing body has vetted these individuals, there is no way to know if they meet the minimum educational and clinical standards of a licensed practitioner, or if they even have the skills to provide veterinary services. The Board should be able to impose the maximum fine available to deter this activity because the citation penalty is the only form of punishment the Board has against unlicensed practitioners.
Two more paragraphs have been added to the regulation regarding citations being public documents and a provision about abatement and what it involves.
There will be no negative impacts to the public by implementing these proposed changes because the violations and the system for the assessment and collection of penalties is already in place. The proposed updates simply enhance the severity of the law and the higher fines will create a greater income for the Board.
For more information, visit the VMB website: https://www.vmb.ca.gov/laws_regs/proposed_regs.shtml