Animal Protection Issues Stirring in Congress

Congress slow to act on free-standing bills, but rapid-fire action on animal issues tied to annual spending measures

In recent weeks, we’ve seen some significant movement on animal protection issues in the Congress.  Overall, there are dozens of bills introduced to drive reform on a broad range of wildlife, anti-cruelty, animal testing, companion animal, and farm animal protection efforts. Today, we report tangible progress in moving reforms ahead.

Anti-horse soring bill on the move: On May 23rd, with the Animal Wellness Action team knocking on hundreds of doors on Capitol Hill, we led the charge to secure 300  cosponsors for the U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, and Ted Yoho, R-Fla.  H.R. 693 would amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970 (authored by Senator Tydings) and crack down on the practice of soring Tennessee Walking, Racking, and Spotted Saddle Horses that runs rampant throughout the Southeastern U.S.  Conducted by unscrupulous trainers, soring involves the application of caustic chemicals to the front limbs of Tennessee Walking Horses or the insertion sharp objects into their hooves to produce an exaggerated gait known as the “big lick.”  This intentional abuse of horses has been an ugly feature of the equine world since the 1950’s.

The 290-cosponsor threshold, under a new rule imposed by Democrat leaders who faced pressure from the Problem Solvers Caucus, triggers a floor debate and vote on the legislation.  H.R. 693 is just the third measure in 2019 to attract that level of cosponsorship with its 300.  U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer cosponsored the bill, along with 225 other Democrats and 75 Republicans.

Anti-Cruelty Enforcement through the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill:  Action is leading an effort to enforce our federal criminal statutes against animal cruelty. The House Appropriations Committee reported its spending bill for these agencies and it includes report language that declares the committee is concerned “that the Department [of Justice] has not made it a priority to enforce animal welfare crimes.”  In addition, since it recognizes that animal cruelty crimes are often associated with other criminal behavior, the Committee directs the Department within 80 days of enactment of the spending bill “to enforce animal fighting statutes and other animal welfare crimes in the States and U.S. territories,” to measure performance of its work, and to coordinate with the USDA.  In the end, we are seeking $2 million in dedicated funding to step up enforcement of our federal anti-cruelty laws.

Key reforms in the Agriculture Appropriations bill:  The House Appropriations Committee released its FY 2020 spending bill, and it contains a directive to the USDA to restore its searchable database of animal welfare inspection reports and horse soring violations. In 2017, the agency took the database down. More recently, it started putting up inspection reports but they were so heavily redacted that they were largely unusable.  The committee, under the leadership of Chairman Sanford Bishop, included language to bar USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants, effectively barring those operations on U.S. soil.  The committee also barred the use of funds to licensed dealers who obtain dogs or other animals from random sources.  And the bill provides more money than in prior years for enforcement of the Horse Protection Action and the Animal Welfare Act.

Wild horse issues center stage in the Interior Appropriations bill:  The bill includes language sought by the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) and AWA to impose a ban on slaughtering wild horses coming off of U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management lands.  But the legislation also provides $6 million to begin implementation of a dangerous mass roundup and removal plan promoted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Public Lands Council and other Agribusiness lobbying groups along with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the ASPCA.  Presented as a broad stakeholder compromise, the plan is opposed by a broad array of stakeholders from the wild horse protection community.

While we are pleased that the Committee rejected the full $50 million appropriations request originally sought by plan proponents, the language provides sufficient funding for the BLM to conduct mass roundups and removals of wild horses from public lands and inhumane surgical sterilization methods that the scientific community has warned against. We are calling on Congress to direct BLM to minimize costly and inhumane round-ups and to use new resources to dramatically step up its fertility control programs, especially with the use of the PZP vaccine.

Notably absent from the Interior spending bills are riders to remove federal protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states and to repeal a National Park Service rule to protect predators on national preserves.

Raft of wildlife bills under examination by the House Natural Resources Committee:  The committee, under the direction of Chairman Raul Grijalva, a tremendous champion for animals, has favorably reported a bill to protect Right Whales in the Atlantic.  It has also conducted hearings on more than half a dozen other animal protection bills, including the Big Cat Public Safety Actthe Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, the Albatross and Petrel Conservation Act, and others.  These bills are primed for movement through the committee and through the entire House.  The Senate Commerce Committee has favorably reported its version of the anti-shark finning bill.

As the spending bills move to the floor, we expect a number of pro-animal amendments to be offered.  We also expect a number of other bills to gain traction in their committees of jurisdiction, including the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act with 235 cosponsors – well over half the House.

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