Louisiana Vet Fights Back for Working Moms
A Lifelong Passion
As Lara drove down the interstate highway, a stray dog suddenly entered her path.
She swerved, narrowly avoiding a collision that would have almost certainly proved fatal for the dog.
That day, as a young pre-med student, Lara’s life also changed course. She got out of the car and saved the dog from the dangerous roadway. A lifelong animal lover, the experience gave her a new idea of who she would ultimately become: Dr. Lara Stooksbury, Small Animal Veterinarian.
“From a very young age, I was really drawn to animals,” Lara said. “I realized, what am I doing? I definitely am not bound for human medicine. This is my calling.”
Lara earned an undergraduate degree and then went to the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University, her home state’s flagship university, to complete her training. A recruiter found her and convinced her to take a veterinary position in Nevada, where she put her passion to good use, receiving her professional license and working up to 50 hours a week.
After a few years, Lara and her husband moved to Georgia, where she had little trouble receiving a license to work as a vet. She reduced her hours so she could raise their two children, but she still worked around 20 hours a week.
“Once I had children, I wanted to be able to spend more time with them,” Lara said. “I wanted to be the primary caregiver to them rather than send them to daycare or a nanny. I wanted to be involved.”
Finally, after many years away, Lara and her family decided to move home to Louisiana. She quickly learned through first-hand experience that Louisiana has the most burdensome job licensing laws in the country. In Lara’s case, the state’s veterinary licensing board determined that her decision to reduce her hours to take care of her family had rendered her out-of-state license invalid, even though they admitted Lara was perfectly qualified.
The board’s decision disregarded her years of experience, years in which she hadn't received a single professional complaint. She would be forced to jump through numerous bureaucratic hurdles, including studying for and retaking a licensing exam she’d already passed. Since the board readily admitted Lara was a qualified veterinarian, she filed for a waiver to circumvent these requirements, but her request was denied.
“I had a board member look at me and say, I've been on this board for years,” Lara said. “We know these rules are problematic. We've talked about them at every board meeting that I've been a part of since I've been a board member—we know they're problematic and we know they need to change.”
While Lara eventually took the exam so she could get her license and return to work, the board’s rigid and unnecessary rules cost her thousands of dollars and two years of lost opportunity.
Fighting the Good Fight
Lara didn’t have to face the board alone, however. She had heard of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a Louisiana-based think tank known for removing barriers for people just trying to work. Lara simply sent an email to Pelican Institute through its website, seeking their help.
The Pelican Institute team quickly realized Lara’s rights had been violated, and they partnered with Lara to challenge the licensing board. While the board rejected Lara’s petition to waive the rule that was blocking her from receiving a license, which led to her decision to comply with their requirements and retake the veterinary exam, she and Pelican Institute decided not to give up.
Supported by a grant from Atlas Network, Pelican Institute has helped to pass groundbreaking legislation, including the Right to Earn a Living Act. James Baehr, special counsel at Pelican Institute, says the law opens a pathway for Louisianans to take legal action, forcing state licensing boards to justify the necessity of their licensing requirements.
“The Right to Earn a Living Act changes the presumption,” James said. “So instead of the challenger having to show that the law is unreasonable or irrational, now the board has to show that the law is necessary for public health, safety, fiduciary, or welfare purposes. It shifts the support towards the challenger because the policy should be about freedom and opportunity.”
Now, Lara and Pelican Institute are pursuing a lawsuit to force the board to make a change that would potentially benefit thousands of Louisianans similarly locked out of opportunities by unnecessary regulations.
For Lara, it’s a matter of getting justice for the many people like her who want to support their loved ones in and out of the workplace.
“I can’t stand the thought of not doing everything I can do to make it better for the next person,” she said. “There's no reason why you should be punished for deciding to prioritize family and still have your profession be a big part of your life.”
James says that while the case is about getting justice for Lara, her commitment to change the board’s rules can help many other people. “Lara was injured by this board's policies, and so she deserves justice,” he said. “They'd like her to go away. They'd like us to go away. We're not going away. There are other people in this state that this matters to going forward, and we're going to continue fighting for them until this changes.”
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