AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just one day after the 88th legislative session gaveled in, legislative staff have already tasked lawmakers with taking a closer look at the future of a state agency plagued with problems: the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

In a report released this week, staff for the Sunset Advisory Commission offered “options” for deciding how to move forward with the agency in charge of licensing and regulating Texas animal doctors. The report comes after years of issues with “unreliable and inconsistent data collection and management practices” that Sunset staff said have “undermined” the agency’s enforcement efforts and prevented it from meeting “basic expectations.”

In 2022, KXAN investigators discovered dozens of disciplinary documents were missing from the agency’s public licensee look-up website, which could prevent pet owners from seeing a veterinarian’s disciplinary history. KXAN also found a backlog of complaints tied up in the agency’s review process.

These issues persisted at the TBVME, following three different Sunset Advisory Commission reviews over the last six years that “repeatedly documented” similar data and management issues.

In the last year, several top leaders at the TBVME stepped down, leaving a new Executive Director and Board President to come face the Sunset Advisory Commission in a hearing on Thursday. This group of lawmakers, along with the commission’s staff, routinely review the effectiveness and performance of state agencies.

Lawmakers on the commission voted to move forward with one of the Sunset options, which would temporarily attach the TBVME to a different state agency, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), for the next four years.

With this route, TDLR will “provide policymaking and administrative oversight” to the Veterinary Board. TBVME staff would shadow TDLR staff, who could also advise on how to procure a new database. The Veterinary Board members would act as an advisory board to TDLR on these matters.

  • Read the full Sunset report on the TBVME here

The entire legislature will need to approve this recommendation from the Sunset Commission, but the Chairman, Senator Charles Schwertner, said he felt like this was a necessary step in the right direction.

“The Vet Board needs improvement across the board, and I think TDLR will give the tools, oversight, manpower, and the direction that they need to take,” he said.

During discussion, lawmakers emphasized that the goal of the arrangement would be for the veterinary agency to come back under Sunset review in 2027, and ultimately regain full control over its current duties and operations.

Sunset staff offered other potential suggestions for consideration, including the creation of an interagency work group to provide guidance to the TBVME and the adoption of several specific oversight recommendations to ensure the agency addresses its issues.

The work group, it suggested, would be comprised of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the Texas Medical Board, the State Board of Pharmacy, the Department of Information Resources, and both major universities in the state with veterinary medicine programs: the Texas Tech University System and Texas A&M University.

Under the final option, Sunset staff laid out specific statutory changes that it says should be addressed, regardless of what other action is taken.

These include requiring the agency to develop consistent methods for collecting, tracking, and analyzing trends in its complaints, require the agency to prioritize complaints based on the risk they pose to the public, and require the agency to publish more information on its website — including accurate disciplinary histories for the veterinarians licensed by TBVME.