Critics of the bill say it gives the nonprofit clinics — which typically charge lower rates — an advantage over veterinarians in private practice.
"This bill will tilt the playing field," said Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, would grant nonprofit veterinary clinics an exemption from a state rule that requires all spay/neuter operations to be done in a clinic owned by a veterinarian.
Over the past year, the state's veterinary board has occasionally threatened nonprofit clinics with closure because of the rule.
Advocates of the bill say that the state has an overpopulation of stray animals, and spaying and neutering can bring that overpopulation down. Advocates say the typical nonprofit spay or neuter operation costs $100 or less, about a third of the cost with a vet in private practice.
Todd, the bill's sponsor, said she sometimes picks up stray animals and takes them to get fixed, because it's the right thing to do. Low prices at non-profit clinics make that possible, she said.
Williams claimed the bill would cost local governments tax revenue.
"When people bring their dogs from two counties away to Birmingham, there's going to be some tax that is lost," he said.
"Maybe they should open their own clinic," Todd replied.
Some critics of the bill seemed to question whether nonprofit clinics are truly nonprofit, noting that salaries of some nonprofit directors are often high.
"You think that by having a 501 (c ) 3 that's going to resolve the issue?" asked Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville.
Todd noted that, no matter what the executive salaries, nonprofits are still not in the business of turning a profit.
"Maybe we should question how much (Alabama football coach) Nick Saban makes," she said. "He works for a nonprofit, doesn't he?"
Williams asked whether a major company like Wal-Mart Inc. would create a nonprofit to offer spay/neuter services at their stores.
"You can get you toenails done at Walmart, or your hair cut or your eyeglasses, so why not get your dog neutered?" he asked.
Todd said she didn't think Wal-Mart wouId legally be able to do that. She said a non-profit spay/neuter clinic in her area had already made a noticeable effect on the stray population.
"I can already see the effects," she said.
Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden, made a motion to postpone the bill to the 29th day of the 30-day session, a change that would likely have killed its chance of passing both houses. Standridge said lawmakers needed more time to consider the bill.
"This bill's been on the calendar for three years," Todd said, referring to nearly identical bills proposed earlier.
House members rejected Standridge's motion and later voted 58-37 in favor of the bill.
Todd's bill now moves to the Senate, where President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he'll try to bring it to a vote.
"I'd like to get it to the floor and get a good debate on it," he said.
In the Senate, the bill is likely to face a race against the clock. The Legislature is more than halfway through its 30-day session, and neither chamber has voted on a budget yet. The Senate began Tuesday with a plan to vote on a handful of bills that would place new restrictions on people who take public assistance such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, TANF — but Marsh abruptly called for adjournment before the first of the bills passed.
The call for adjournment came in the middle of an intense debate between Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, and Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, over a bill by Pittman that would require drug testing for some people using TANF.
"The goal of this bill is to try and get people off drugs," Pittman said.
"You're assuming that everybody who's on public assistance is on drugs," Singleton said.
Marsh said he called the debate to a halt so Republicans could discuss them at a lunch on Wednesday and come back to the bills with a plan when the Senate convenes at 3 p.m.
Marsh said Tuesday the Senate would likely take up Tuesday's list of bills again today. He said the Senate might also take up a bill, which was expected to come up this week, that was designed to strengthen the Open Meetings Act. Still, said he wasn't sure there would be time for that bill today.
Senators also postponed a scheduled public hearing on a bill, by Marsh, that would give counties more power over their own administrative affairs. He said he expected the hearing to take place Wednesday.
"It could be a late night tomorrow," he said.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
HOW THEY VOTED:
A "yes" vote would make nonprofit spay/neuter clinics exempt from a requirement that clinics be owned by a veterinarian.
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston — Yes
Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville — Yes
Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford — No
Rep Randy Wood, R-Saks — Yes