Equine Legislation and the Democratic Congress

Will a Democratic Congress and president mean more bi-partisan equine welfare legislation gets signed into law?

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Horse Legislation Democratic Congress
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In 2007, 59 slaughter-bound horses were en route from Indiana through Illinois to a sale barn in Minnesota when the double-deck tractor trailer in which they were traveling overturned in Wadsworth, Ill. A total of 17 animals perished due to accident-related injuries, either on the scene or within days of the incident. The surviving animals were placed in the care of the Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society (HARPS) in Barrington, Ill. Shortly thereafter, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a rule prohibiting the transport of horses to slaughter in double-deckers, but publishing the rule was sidetracked. In response several pieces of horse legislation with both Democratic and Republic support were introduced in to Congress repeatedly all the way up to 2019. Some of those bills made it out of the U.S. House of Representatives, but never got far enough in the process to be signed into law.

This year though, the horse transport legislation got a boost when the so-called Carter-Fitzpatrick Amendment prohibiting double-decker horse transport became attached to H.R. 3684, the House’s version of the massive infrastructure bill called “Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (INVEST).” That bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 1, 2021.

Even before the INVEST Act passed the House, several pieces of horse welfare-related legislation were introduced into both the U.S. House and Senate. In May, U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) who co-chairs the bi-partisan Congressional Animal Protection Caucus and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced The Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act (H.R. 3355) of 2021 that would permanently ban slaughter of horses for human consumption and forbid the export of live horses to processing plants in Mexico and Canada.

In June, Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mark Warner (D-VA) reintroduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST) Act (H.R. 693). That legislation would forbid soring and the use of action devices on Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited horses. Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse’s feet and legs to achieve an overly exaggerated gait.

Both pieces of legislation represent legislators’ latest versions of the SAFE and PAST Acts. Previous versions have been introduced and re-introduced into Congress for years, but despite bi-partisan support, they either died in their respective committees or never reached the floors of the House or Senate for an up or down vote. Now, at a time when the balance of power in both Congress and the Oval Office has shifted toward the Democratic side of the aisle, some lawmakers say that the time may be right to bring the legislation forward. Among them is Sen. Warner.

“The House of Representatives recognized the need for action last Congress by passing this bill, and it’s my hope that the Senate will follow suit, with both houses passing this legislation this Congress,” Warner said. “I look forward to (working) with the Biden Administration this Congress to protect horses from abusive show practices.”

Meanwhile, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the tradition of bi-partisan equine welfare legislation figured significantly when both the House and the Senate passed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) of 2020 (H.R. 1754).

That Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2020, established the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, a conflict-free, self-regulatory organization to create and implement an anti-doping policy for the entire horse racing industry.

“That legislation earned broad support,” said McConnell spokesperson Stephanie Penn in a written statement.

Penn did not indicate that other pieces of equine legislation would have the same kind of success from both houses of Congress or from the Biden Administration.

In any case, Matt Sonneborn, the communications director for Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) said that that measure’s success has more to do with the legislative process than with which party controls the House, the Senate or the Oval office. Tonko, along with Republican Andy Barr (R-KY) co-chairs the Congressional Horse Caucus. He also introduced HISA.

“Good legislation just takes time,” Sonneborn said. “The Horseracing Integrity (and Safety) Act took five years of working with other members of Congress and with the industry and with equine welfare advocates.”

More recently, the inclusion of the Carter-Fitzgerald Amendment to the House’s infrastructure bill, may help get horse transport legislation finally signed into law.

“One of the interesting things is that the inclusion of the amendment means that the transport of horses is now considered an infrastructure issue,” Sonneborn said.

As a result, other horse-friendly legislation may also find success by becoming amendments attached to larger bills in this Democratic-majority Congress. Still, there are ways long-languishing equine welfare stand-alone legislation may also find their way on to President Biden’s desk.

“For example, there are messaging bills in which members are saying, ‘I’m for this,’” Sonneborn explained.

According to Sonneborn, some bills begin as messaging bills, and in either one or a series of hearings, could move through the House and eventually get a vote on the floor. The strength of the legislation makes the difference, he said.

“There have been many bills that began as messaging bills but moved through the (legislative) process because they were good legislation,” he said.

Another way is including the measure in a group of bills offered at the beginning of the House’s legislative session.

“Those bills are generally not controversial—they have made the rounds of committees and can be voted on by House members when they first arrive for a new session,” Sonneborn said.

Finally though, when it comes to moving horse legislation, even bi-partisan legislation, through the lawmaking process in this Democratic-majority Congress, it’s the quality of the proposed law that counts the most.

“Of course, the support of the President also certainly helps,” Sonneborn said.

Further Reading

Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act Becomes First National Animal Anti-Cruelty Law
U.S. House of Representatives Passes Horse Transportation Safety Act and Farm Bill to Boost Equine Welfare; Senate Approval Required Next

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