President Signs Bill to Fund Government

This week Congress passed and the President signed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide funding for the government until December 9th. The CR is an extension of last year’s omnibus appropriations bill that expires September 30.  

Congress is supposed to debate and approve several separate appropriation bills for each federal agency including those important to the horse industry like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior. However, Congress has been unable to pass any individual FY 2017 appropriations bills to-date.

The CR maintains current funding levels for all government agencies and programs including those responsible for responding to contagious equine disease outbreaks. The CR also extends the language that prohibits USDA from using any funds to provide inspectors at meat processing facilities that slaughter horses, continuing a policy that begin in 2005, except for a brief period in 2012 and 2013. No horse slaughter facilities are operating in the U.S. and this CR would prevent any such facility from opening until December 9, 2016.

The CR does not extend the H-2B returning worker exemption. This provision was included in last year’s omnibus appropriation bill and exempted from the 66,000 cap on H-2B visas, workers who had complied with past visa requirements and worked in the program during one of the preceding three years. However, the bill does extend several beneficial provisions that make the H-2B program less burdensome for employers including:

  • A requirement wages be based on the job category and experience level required, rather than an artificially inflated median wage;
  • Defines seasonal as ten months, as opposed to nine months;
  • Prevents the Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing the provisions of the 2015 H-2B rule related to corresponding employment and the ¾ guarantee of work days; and
  • Prevents DOL from implementing the new and burdensome DOL enforcement scheme in the 2015 H-2B rule related to audits and the Certifying Officer (CO) assisted recruitment.

The H-2B program is used by members of the horse industry, principally horse trainers and owners who cannot find American workers to fill semi-skilled jobs as grooms, exercise riders, and stable attendants at racetracks, horse shows, fairs and in similar non-agricultural activities.

Congress must still pass either individual appropriations bills or an omnibus appropriations bill that combines all 12 individual appropriation bills to fund the government after December 9th.

If you have any questions please contact the AHC.

AHC Statement on Proposed Horse Protection Act Regulations

Many individuals in the horse industry are aware that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has published proposed changes to the regulations governing enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The proposed rule would make several major changes to current HPA regulations with the goal of ending soring, including a new licensing program for HPA inspectors and a ban on action devices, pads, weighted shoes and foreign substances at walking horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.

The American Horse Council (AHC) strongly opposes soring and believes action must be taken to stop the soring of “big lick” Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses.  However, the AHC is concerned that certain provisions of the proposed rule are too broadly written, not sufficiently defined, and could cause confusion for the horse show industry.  Like all industries, the horse show industry requires clarity in any regulatory regime that impacts its operation.  Soring is a problem that is well defined and limited to a very specific segment of the walking horse industry and any new regulations should reflect this fact.

The AHC’s formal comments to USDA will strongly urge USDA to explicitly limit all new provisions to Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses, mirroring the PAST Act.  Making this change will address most concerns the horse industry has with the proposed rule and will fulfill the purpose and intent of the HPA.

The AHC wants to be clear, many of the proposed changes to the HPA regulations are needed, such as replacing the ineffective Designated Qualified Person (DQP) program with a new independent inspection program. Additionally, because of a long history of utilizing action devices, stacks, weighted shoes, and foreign substances to sore horses, a ban of these items on Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses is justified and needed.

However, the AHC believes it is equally important that any new regulations be narrowly focused on the problem of soring and do not  inadvertently impact or unnecessarily burden other segments of the horse show industry that have no history of soring horses. 

The AHC will be submitting detailed written comments to USDA in the coming weeks. 

House of Representatives Passes National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act

Today, the House of Representatives passed the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2015 (H.R.845). The bill, introduced by Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Tim Walz (D-MN), would direct the Forest Service to take several actions to help address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely impacting all trail users on many national forests, including equestrians.  The American Horse Council, Backcountry Horsemen of America, and the Wilderness Society were significantly involved in the creation of this bill.

The AHC strongly supports the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2015 and is pleased the House has approved this important legislation.

A June 2013, study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Forest Service has deferred trail maintenance needs that exceed half-billion dollars, and only one-quarter of the agency’s 158,000 miles of trails meets agency standards for maintenance. This maintenance backlog is causing access and safety issues for equestrians and all trail users on national forests.  

The National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act would direct the Forest Service to develop a strategy to more effectively utilize volunteers and partners to assist in maintaining national forest trails.  It will also provide outfitters and guides the ability to perform trail maintenance activities in lieu of permit fees.   Additionally, the bill would address a liability issue that has discouraged some national forests from utilizing volunteers and partner organizations to help perform trail maintenance and would direct the Forest Service to identify and prioritize specific areas with the greatest need for trail maintenance in the national forest system.

In the current fiscal environment it is unlikely Congress will appropriate additional funds to directly address the trail maintenance backlog. This bill will help improve trail maintenance without the need for additional funding. 

The bill must now be considered by the Senate.

USDA Extends Comment Period on Proposed Changes to HPA Regulations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced it is extending the public comment period on proposed changes to the Horse Protection Act (HPA) regulations for 30 days.

On July 26, 2016, the USDA published proposed changes to the regulations governing enforcement of the HPA. The HPA was passed in 1970 to stop the cruel practice of “soring” horses that was occurring in some sectors of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse industry. The proposed rule would make several major changes to current HPA regulations with the goal of ending soring. 

This is a proposed rule only and USDA will now be accepting comments now until October 26, 2016.  USDA will then have to review all comments and release a final rule.  The proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register and can be viewed here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/07/26/2016-17648/horse-protection-licensing-of-designated-qualified-persons-and-other-amendments

 The AHC opposes soring and will be submitting comments to USDA in the coming weeks.

National Forest Trail Bill Approved by House Agriculture Committee

Today, the House Committee on Agriculture unanimously approved the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2015 (H.R.845). The bill, introduced by Congresswomen Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Tim Walz (D-MN), would direct the Forest Service to take several actions to help address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely impacting all trail users on many national forests, including equestrians.  The American Horse Council, Backcountry Horsemen of America, and the Wilderness Society were significantly involved in the creation of this bill.      

A June 2013, study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Forest Service has deferred trail maintenance needs that exceed half-billion dollars, and only one-quarter of the agency’s 158,000 miles of trails meets agency standards for maintenance. This maintenance backlog is causing access and safety issues for equestrians and all trail users on national forests.  

The National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act would direct the Forest Service to develop a strategy to more effectively utilize volunteers and partners to assist in maintaining national forest trails.  It will also provide outfitters and guides the ability to perform trail maintenance activities in lieu of permit fees.   Additionally, the bill would address a liability issue that has discouraged some national forests from utilizing volunteers and partner organizations to help perform trail maintenance and would direct the Forest Service to identify and prioritize specific areas with the greatest need for trail maintenance in the national forest system.

In the current fiscal environment it is unlikely Congress will appropriate additional funds to directly address the trail maintenance backlog. This bill will help improve trail maintenance without the need for additional funding. 

The AHC is pleased the House Committee on Agriculture has approved this important legislation.

The bill must now be considered by the full House.

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