MI Animal Policy — Close of the 19–20 Legislative Session

Matt Kuhn
10 min readJan 6, 2021


The 2019–2020 legislative session was quickly derailed as the focus of the legislature quickly turned to discussions surrounding the State’s response to SARS-CoV-2 and ensuing political infighting over appropriate public health measures. As such, the already low passage rate of most bills proposed in the MI legislature dropped even further. Of the just over 60 bills I had identified as important to the veterinary and animal community in Michigan, only four ended up as law.

In this season’s update, the format is a bit different. As bills that were not passed by the end of 2020 will need to be reintroduced in the new 2021–2022 legislative session, I’ll briefly mention newly introduced bills but will skip all other bill updates. Instead, I’ll focus more on “wins” for the veterinary and animal health communities and what trends we saw in this legislative session. Looking for trends can offer glimpses of what efforts may be moving their way across the country. For instance, Michigan is typically one of the first 10 states focused on when new animal rights campaigns begin across the country — a canary in the coal mine for the rest of the country. When looking back on this legislative session, the following trends arise:

A dog awaits an exam from a veterinarain.

(1) Scope of Practice. Seven different bills were introduced that would limit the veterinary scope of practice as discussed below with only two introduced that expand it, largely focusing on very different areas of expansion and restriction. Certainly, it appears efforts to limit declawing of cats, debarking of dogs, and other “cosmetic” procedures are increasing year after year.

(2) Dogfighting. Twelve Bills were introduced this legislative session focusing on cracking down on dogfighting. From increasing penalties to widening the scope of illegal acts, there was a robust effort from various congressional offices to continue to limit dogfighting in the state. Somewhat surprisingly, despite this push, there was little support for these bills and none became law.

(3) Cannabis and CBD. Although only one bill was introduced regarding CBD and cannabis use in pets, its rapid passage underscores the problem veterinarians were facing in Michigan and likely face across the country. This bill will likely be used as a precedent for support of such measures across the US given few states are yet to address this issue.

“Wins” for Animal Health

One significant win for veterinarians was the passage of HB 5085, allowing veterinarians to speak with clients about CBD. The topic of cannabis and CBD use in pets came to the forefront when Michigan legalized recreational marijuana use in 2018. Veterinarians were left without answers from the State regarding their ability to discuss the use of CBD in pets or even the legality of warning against its use. This led to high-level conversations between Michigan’s veterinary leaders, the Governor’s office, and the Attorney General’s office, ultimately culminating in strong support for a bill that would clarify the issue. HB 5085 passed both houses and was signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, simply codifying:

Photo by Honest Paws on Unsplash

(1) A veterinarian may consult with an owner on the use of marihuana (the state of Michigan’s chosen spelling) or industrial hemp on an animal of the owner.
(2) As used in this section: (a) “Industrial hemp” means that term as defined in section 7106. (b) “Marihuana” means that term as defined in section 7106.

The simplicity and lack of restrictions placed upon veterinarians in this bill is a significant departure from other bills proposed across the country that either focused on the product itself (Washington-failed, West Virginia-failed) or veterinarians (Rhode Island-failed, California-passed). For more information on the use of CBD in pets, the AVMA has resources for both members and non-members available.

The topic of deer baiting also received a significant amount of attention in the State of Michigan. Michigan has a nagging problem with tuberculosis in both deer and cattle in a specific portion of the state. Although only sporadically found in cattle, spillovers from wild deer (the natural reservoir) do happen and there has been a recent uptick in the occurrence. The Michigan DNR banned deer baiting as a response to this uptick to slow the spread of tuberculosis in deer, both protecting the population's health, cattle health, and ultimately human health. Certain hunting groups were displeased with this rule, and understandably so, as the counterargument to this measure is that limiting hunting will increase the deer population overall. Thus, these groups were successful in passing two bills, HB 4687 and SB 37 reinstating the ability of hunters to bait deer. These bills were subsequently vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the interest of public health, the long term health of Michigan’s hunting industry, and to protect one of Michigan’s largest agriculture industries, dairy. Efforts to circumvent this veto, both an override attempt and additional bills were unsuccessful.

A significant number of bills aimed at limiting the scope of veterinary practice were introduced in the 2019–2020 legislative session. Fortunately, with the help of veterinarians across the state. Specifically, bills were aimed at banning canine devocalization (HB 4641, HB 4593), banning declawing of cats (HB 5508), and banning other cosmetic surgeries (HB 6009) all failed to even reach a vote in either house. Although such bills sound appropriate on first glance, with an intent to protect animal welfare, their text is often vague meaning surgeries that may indeed be therapeutic can get included in poor definitions of banned procedures. Such bills dictate what is best for animals by law rather than veterinary judgment, restricting a veterinarian's ability to care for an animal.

Veterinary students perform an ultrasound on an otherwise healthy animal during training to become well-rounded clinicians.

Further attempts to restrict veterinary teaching and research were also rebuffed by the legislature. Bills HB 5090 and SB 971, which aimed to restrict the use of dogs in veterinary research and training, and HB 4496 regarding the adoption of dogs used for research purposes all failed to become law. Such bills often neglect to understand the strict rules that are already followed by both academia and private industry in the use of animals in training and research. This work is vital to continue to provide adequate training to the future of the veterinary profession and to continue to develop techniques and products that benefit animal health.

One bill that many veterinarians took an active stance on was SB 429. SB 429 would have required veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse. This was another bill that initially appears appropriate — certainly veterinarians who suspect animal abuse should report it. A law already protects veterinarians against legal retribution for alerting authorities to suspected abuse and we have an ethical obligation to do so. However, mandating this by law removes a layer of trust between veterinarians and clients. Clients may be unwilling to bring pets into hospitals for fear of retribution. Whether an accident at home or intentional harm, animals need to receive proper veterinary care. The trust between veterinarians and clients is key to ensuring they do.

Newly Introduced Bills

HB 6195, introduced by veterinarian Hank Vaupel, would have significantly strengthened the scope of practice for veterinarians in Michigan. Specifically, the bill would have brought acupuncture, nutraceutical therapy, chiropractic therapy, and other similar forms of non-Western medicine under the purview of lawful “practice of veterinary medicine.” Additionally, and most importantly, this bill would also have established the need for a Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) in Michigan — a relationship required by federal law but currently lost in a loophole of Michigan law. Although this bill did not move, its introduction will offer a script for the next legislative session to pick up. I expect this bill will receive quick and strong support from the veterinary community of Michigan.

HB 6455, introduced by Jim Ellison, aimed to restrict the ownership of dangerous reptiles in Michigan. This bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture and did not pass.

Crossed the Finish Line

SB 174, an amendment of the Animal Industry Act, largely helping the State to better combat disease emergencies and simplifying the law, became law on December 3rd, 2019.

HB 4102 strengthening penalties for dogfighting, or knowledge of / involvement with dogfighting, became law on December 31st, 2019.

HB 4217 became law, establishing mandates for electronic prescriptions, on the 21st of July, 2020 with the veterinary exemption intact in all forms.

HB 5085 allowing veterinarians to discuss CBD and cannabis products with clients became law on the 31st of December, 2020.

Faltered in the Home Stretch

Photo by Omar Rodriguez on Unsplash

HB 4035 that would restrict local units of government from using breed or perceived breed of dog as a reason for an ordinance (breed-specific legislation) has passed the House with a large 478 to 88 majority and was referred to the Committee of the Whole in the Senate but failed to receive a final vote. Language from this bill was later included in other measures that also failed but underscores the support it has. As we know breed-specific legislation does not protect communities, we can hope that this bill can pick up where it left off in the new legislative session.

HB 4687 and SB 37 allowing for deer baiting passed both the House and Senate and were vetoed by the Governor as discussed above.

HB 4910 defining an Emotional Support Animal and reducing falsification of such animals and HB 4911 is a tie-bar with 4910 to update language elsewhere in Michigan law to match the new language in HB 4010 passed both houses of Congress but were vetoed by the governor. Gov. Whitmer said the bills would have required landlords to access private medical records of tenants, an illegal act.

End of the Road

HB 6317 and HB 6318 relating to dangerous dogs and breed-specific legislation policy failed to become law.

HB 6393, HB 6421, and HB 6422 that change the standards of public notice for law enforcement agencies that come into possession of an animal whose owner is unknown failed to become law.

HB 6009, which aims to ban any surgical alterations to dogs that are done strictly to meet breed standards or for cosmetic reasons failed to become law.

HB 5808 and HB 5809 provide details on policies relating to law enforcement seizure of dogs HB 4102 became law on December 31st, 2019.

HB 5090 and SB 971 that aimed to restrict the use of dogs in veterinary research and training failed to become law.

HB 4641 that would make it a misdemeanor for a veterinarian to perform a devocalization procedure failed to become law.

HB 4340 restricting the recording of hunters or fishers failed to become law.

HB 5577, which amends the Michigan penal code to strengthen animal welfare standards for dogs left outside in inclement weather failed to become law.

SB 823 creating regulations for pet cemeteries failed to become law.

SB 800 making it a 1$ fine to bait deer failed to become law.

HB 5508 banning declawing in cats has not moved.

HB 5486 adding protections for service animals in training failed to become law.

SB 608, SB 609, and SB 610 regarding emotional support animals failed to pass.

SB 780 requiring animal control officers to report suspected child abuse/neglect failed to become law.

HB 5465 establishing a Rare Disease Review Committee failed to become law.

SB 666 and HB 5273 aiming to end the practice of pet leasing/loaning in Michigan failed to become law.

HB 5239 creating an equine industry check-off program failed to become law.

HB 5203 creating a Small Farm Coordinator failed to become law.

HB 5125 regulating the aerial spraying of pesticides failed to become law.

HB 4496 regarding the adoption of dogs used for research purposes failed to become law.

HB 4941 which alters how long an animal is held during a criminal trial failed to become law.

HB 4931 making a dog sitting on a driver’s lap while driving a misdemeanor failed to become law.

HB 4860 expanding the authority of the Large Carnivore Act failed to become law.

HB 4833 regulating the transport of deer both inter- and intra-state failed to become law.

SB 429 which would require reporting of suspected animal abuse by veterinarians failed to become law.

SB 352 and SB 353 regarding mandating reporting of animal abuse or neglect by child protective services employees moved out of committee but failed to become law.

SB 419 requiring state registration of animal rescues has been reported favorably by the Committee on Agriculture and referred to the Committee of the Whole with a Substitute (S-2) but failed to become law.

SB 316 regarding animals for fighting has been moved out of committee but failed to become law.

HB 4592 which would allow animal advocates in court failed to become law.

HB 4593 regarding canine devocalization failed to become law.

HB 4594 regarding the ownership of non-human primates failed to become law.

HB 4595 regarding carrier pigeon regulations failed to become law.

HB 4596 regarding community cat programs failed to become law.

HB 4610 regarding community vaccination failed to become law.

House Bills 4659, 4603, 4604, 4606, 4607, 4608, and 4609 all failed to receive traction and become law.

HB 4092 regarding leaving pets in cars failed to become law.

SB 63 regarding income tax deductions for service animals failed to become law.

HB 4455 designating the shelter pet as the state pet failed to become law.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or any organizations of which I am a member.



Matt Kuhn

Veterinarian. PhD. AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow. Bookworm, SciPol junky, dad, ER vet husband.