Some years ago, the state board that licenses veterinarians became embroiled in a nasty little turf battle with dog groomers over who had the legal right to clean dogs’ teeth.
The vet board claimed it was the exclusive province of its licensees while dog groomers argued, in effect, that brushing canines’ canines was a service, not a medical procedure.
It was a semi-humorous skirmish in the long-running Capitol battle over medical “scope of practice.”
It also framed another issue: When do licensing agencies cross the line that separates ensuring professional competency from protecting the regulated profession’s monopoly?
Or, to frame the issue in doggie dental terms, was the California Veterinary Medical Board protecting dogs and their owners from incompetent tooth-brushing, or protecting vets from lower-priced competitors?
The question has arisen from time to time, not only when such conflicts arise, but when occupational groups – interior designers, for example – seek state licensing.
The issue is certainly not unique to California, and it reached the U.S. Supreme Court when the Federal Trade Commission went after the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, which had cracked down on non-dentists who were offering teeth-whitening services.
The FTC said that since the North Carolina board is controlled completely by dentists themselves, it didn’t deserve exemption from federal antitrust laws.
In February, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling written by Californian Anthony Kennedy, declared that agencies “controlled by active market participants” without oversight and review by other state agencies or the public, can be monopolistic. And that may include most of California’s licensing boards.
The Legislature has taken notice of the decision and is researching which of the dozens of state licensing agencies could be considered to be monopolistic and must be changed.
One agency that may be particularly affected is the State Bar, which not only licenses lawyers but operates, in effect, as the lobbying arm of the legal profession. It is very antagonistic toward those who offer even routine legal assistance without licensure.
This is no small matter, because it potentially affects virtually every licensed profession, and their trade organizations are among the Capitol’s most generous – if that’s the word – contributors to political campaigns.
Medical providers, for instance, are spending heavily to support – and endear themselves to – Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla as she runs for a state Senate seat against fellow Democrat Steve Glazer in a May 19 special election.
She chairs the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, and were she to lose the election, she would oversee legislation to overhaul professional licensing in response to the Supreme Court ruling.