Lawmakers are not planning to override a veto of rabies legislation
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Lawmakers are not planning to override a veto of rabies legislation

Date: September 7, 2012
By: Alexander Mallin
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 566

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri will continue to be one of five states without mandatory rabies vaccines as state lawmakers are not planning to override a veto on rabies legislation.

On July 7, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the measure, which would have required cat and dog owners to provide proof of a rabies vaccination in the event their pet bites someone. In the event documentation is not provided, this bill would have required owners to surrender the animal to either a veterinarian or proper authorities.

In Nixon's veto letter, he said the legislation could put Missourians at risk for rabies by taking the power of the decision-making process away from local law enforcement, health care officials and health care providers and placing it solely in the hands of veterinarians.

"Replacing a multidisciplinary team with a single decision-maker would place Missourians who may have been exposed to rabies at significant risk," Nixon said in the letter.

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, a veterinarian, sponsored the legislation which he said he will not pursue overriding the governor's veto. Brown said this is due in part because he doesn't believe the House has the two-thirds majority necessary for overriding the veto.

Brown said the hang-up is due to a change of language in the amendment from his original bill.

"It kind of got a little bit of an overkill and made it worse legislation," Brown said.

Brown's original version called for a mandate that all cats and dogs be vaccinated for rabies. An amendment by Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koetzltown, called for this to be dropped and the replacement language to dictate that licensed veterinarians be in control of examination at the time of a biting instance.

The problem, according to Brown, is that the only way to properly diagnose an animal with rabies is to test brain tissue, which can only be obtained by euthanizing the pet and sending the brain to the Public Health Veterinarian of the state. The current legislation would leave it up to veterinarians to decide the eventual fate of the dog, thus eliminating the need for having to wait for test results which are normally available after one day of shipping arrival.

"We [The House] changed some language on the bill to make it a little easier to swallow for some breeders that would have to do mandatory vaccinations because of it," Loehner said. "The governor had some issues with it but I think the law we have now is sufficient and gives ample jurisdiction to law enforcement officials."

Many cities, such as St. Louis, have ordinances that require rabies vaccination. Enactment of this state legislation would seek to cover the more rural communities that experience problems with rabies prevention, Brown said.

Missouri is one of five states that do not have legislation requiring rabies vaccination, according to Executive Director of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association Richard Antweiler.

"We were pretty shocked when it was vetoed," Antweiler said. "We are viewed as kind of a back wards state not having any basic rabies requirement and it would be nice to change that perception at some point."

Brown said he plans to revisit the legislation in a few years with more of the bill's original language.

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