Horse Owners Urge Oklahoma’s Governor to Sign Bill Freeing Floaters from Ill-conceived Felony Law

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 18, 2009

Oklahoma City, Okla.—Today, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry has before him a bill that will reverse a controversial new law enacted last year that turned horse teeth floaters into felons.  The current law, which went into effect in November, protects a small group of veterinarians by putting Oklahoma entrepreneurs with the skill to care for horse teeth—known as floaters—out of work while forcing horse owners to pay more for lower-quality care.  Under last year’s law, Oklahoma now incarcerates, for up to four years, all horse floaters that are not part of the cabal.

Last week the Oklahoma Legislature overwhelmingly voted to amend the special-interest driven law.  Senate Bill 452 was adopted 36-8 in the Senate on Thursday and 64-28 in the House on Friday.  

“This is a common-sense and popular bill that will restore sanity in the law and protect the jobs of hard working floaters,” said Edye Lucas, founder of the Coalition for Oklahoma Teeth Floaters, whose hundreds of grassroots supporters have bombarded legislators with calls and emails.  “Independent and self-reliant Oklahomans have been taking care of their horses for a long time without unnecessary government meddling.  We urge Governor Henry to sign this legislation as soon as possible.”  

Lucas’ grassroots movement swelled in membership following the March 3 arrest of a popular horse teeth floater who now faces felony charges for violating the veterinary practice act.  All leading agricultural trade associations in Oklahoma support amending Oklahoma law to free the floaters, including the Thoroughbred Racing Association, Quarter Horse Racing Association, Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association and others.  
“When we learned of the arrest, horse owners saw the real life effect of this horrible law,” said Lucas, whose husband is a floater. “Even the author of the law, Rep. Brian Renegar, who is a veterinarian, now admits that the possibility of locking up floaters for four years is an unintended consequence of his legislation.”

Horse owners, veterinarians, horse teeth floaters and others have pledged to work together this summer to find compromise wording to protect the right of horse owners to choose who works on their horses’ teeth and the right of horse teeth floaters to work free from unreasonable occupational regulations.

“We are confident Governor Henry will do the right thing and sign SB 452 into law,” said Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has defended equine practitioners in Texas, Minnesota and Maryland. “During these troubled economic times, Oklahoma entrepreneurs should be encouraged, not threatened with $10,000 in fines and four years in jail for providing a much-needed service.”

If Governor Brad Henry signs the bill, it will change the penalty for violating Oklahoma’s veterinary practice act from a felony and return it to a misdemeanor, as it was prior to November 1, 2008.  The penalties for illegal possession of prescription drugs are not affected by this legislation and will remain a misdemeanor.
“This legislation does not change Oklahoma’s strict regulation and penalties for misusing prescription drugs,” said McGrath. “The very few veterinarians who oppose this bill are engaged in a misleading campaign about sedatives with the self-serving goal of forcing floaters out of business.  We have seen fear mongering in other economic turf battles across the country, but a couple of veterinarians have perfected it in Oklahoma.”

The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs and has worked with horse owners and floaters around the country.  Currently, IJ is representing several Oklahoma interior design entrepreneurs who are prohibited from truthfully describing what they do for a living.