Sunday marked the beginning of the 117th Congress with more than 60 new U.S. Representatives, and half a dozen new U.S. Senators, joining the ranks of incumbent lawmakers in two chambers nearly evenly divided. We’ve been steadily building the legal framework against animal cruelty, and we intend to build on those successes in 2021 and beyond.
In 2018, we worked diligently to get three new measures signed into law in the Farm Bill: the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act to ban animal fighting throughout the U.S.; the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act; and Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act. In 2019, we helped secure the first-ever federal anti-cruelty statute in the form of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act; passage of the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act; and the first new horse protection law in 49 years in 2020 with the signing of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety (HISA) Act, as one of the final acts of the 116th Congress in December.
One-sixth of the seats in the 435-member House will be filled with new lawmakers. We look forward to working with Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn.; Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., and Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., who championed a ban on fur while serving on the New York City Council, and other lawmakers who now will have an opportunity to influence national policy for animals.
In the Upper Chamber, former Auburn football coach, Tommy Tuberville claimed the Yellowhammer seat in my home State of Alabama, and we’ve had productive discussions with him thus far. We hope that Senator Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., picks up the torch on animal welfare from the Martha McSally, whom he narrowly defeated in November; Roger Marshall, a former House Member from Kansas who claimed the U.S. Senate seat held by former Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, has worked with us on advancing horse protection policies in the House; Bill Hagerty from Tennessee, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan will play a key role in helping decide how Tennessee Walking Horses are treated; and Ben Ray Lujan, who won former Senator Tom Udall’s seat in New Mexico, is expected to continue to champion animal welfare issues as he did in the House.
There are a number of bills that came close to passage, and we hope to get them over the finish line in 2021. The Big Cat Public Safety Act passed the House in the 116th Congress, and it has no mainstream opposition. The Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act also passed the House overwhelmingly, and there’s no reason for the Senate to delay further in getting it over the finish line. Reform for Tennessee Walking horses is in doubt after a key compromise was scuttled at the end of 2020. The original Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act is very unlikely to gain any traction in the Senate, and the only path is to compromise with an industry that now recognizes it must change. The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act should also get the attention of lawmakers, bringing transparency and reform to USDA’s corrupt checkoff programs that siphon money from family farmers and enrich agribusiness trade associations.
We’ll also be doubling down to help pass new legislation to protect our iconic American wild horses and burros from mass round-ups; to enact the Animal Cruelty Enforcement (ACE) Act that would create an Animal Cruelty Crimes Unit at the Dept. of Justice; to ban greyhound racing in the U.S. by passing the Greyhound Protection Act, and to stop the commercial trade in the U.S. in kangaroo skins for athletic shoes by passing the Kangaroo Protection Act.
The rhythms of Congress have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’ll be ready to advocate on DAY ONE for all animals in the Congress. It’s the mark of a civilized and good nation to care for the least among us, and that includes the animals who come to us in all their remarkable shapes and varieties. Will you join us in this effort?
Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action, and was named as one of The Hill’s Top Lobbyists for 2019 and 2020 and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect animals.