In 2019, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of the “U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act” (H.R. 693) by a vote of 333 to 96. This is the first time the PAST Act has ever received a vote on the House floor. Unfortunately, the Senate version of the bill (S. 1007) stalled.
In late October, AHC learned that one animal welfare group and certain segments of the walking horse industry had been meeting and circulating a proposed Senate “compromise” bill which would substantially alter the PAST Act (S. 1007). After careful review, AHC formed a coalition of over 30 equine organizations which had significant concerns and were opposed to the “compromise”. Fortunately for the horse industry, lawmakers failed to insert the “compromise bill” within the FY2021 spending bill or other “must pass” legislation. In 2021, a path forward for the PAST Act will depend on whether the Biden Administration might reinstate USDA regulations promulgated in early 2017 and later suspended by the Trump Administration. AHC and its allies are lobbying for reinstatement of the rule as well as a re-introduction of the PAST Act, along the lines of the legislation that moved during the last Congress.
Investigations in the European Union several years ago found that horse meat had been mixed with beef in food. This prompted concerns about the misleading sales of beef and concerns about the introduction into the food supply of medications and drugs that may have been in the horsemeat. These incidents have changed the focus of legislation introduced in Congress to prohibit the sale of horses or horsemeat for human consumption. While bills had been introduced in the last several Congresses to prohibit the slaughter of horses for food, more recent bills cited health concerns as the rationale for legislation dealing with the slaughter of horses for food. Although lawmakers have introduced bills every year in congress since 2001 to outlaw slaughtering horses, so far none has passed.
Status: In early 2019, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) re-introduced the SAFE Act of 2019 (H.R. 961) to prohibit the slaughter of horses in the U.S. and the export of horses for slaughter. The bill would make it illegal under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to knowingly sell or transport horses or parts of horses in interstate or foreign commerce for purposes of human consumption. On January 29, 2020, the House Energy and Commerce Committee conducted a hearing on “improving safety and transparency in America’s food and drugs,” panel members received testimony related to the bill. Although AHC has no formal position on this legislation, staff attended the hearing and will continue to monitor its progress on behalf of the membership
Horseracing Integrity Act
In late September 2020, the House passed the “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HRISA) of 2020,” legislation on which the AHC remained neutral, but monitored on behalf of its diverse membership. The House-passed bill is a companion to legislation introduced earlier in September by Sens. McConnell (R-KY), Gillibrand (D-NY), McSally (R-AZ), and Feinstein (D-CA). The bill would establish a new, independent regulatory authority responsible for outlining uniform safety and competition standards for Thoroughbred horse racing. As expected, HRISA became law in late December 2020 when Senate leadership folded the bill into the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.”
“Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act” or the “PACT Act” was signed into law by President Trump on November 25, 2019. The bipartisan bill, which passed the House and Senate earlier in the year, will outlaw purposeful crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement or other violence causing “serious bodily injury” to animals. Violations could result in a fine and up to seven years’ imprisonment. The PACT Act has been cheered not only by animal welfare groups but also by many members of law enforcement who want federal tools. Without a federal ban, it’s hard to prosecute cases that span different jurisdictions or that occur in airports, military bases and other places under federal purview. The legislation outlines exemptions for humane euthanasia; slaughter for food; recreational activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing; medical and scientific research; “normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice”; and actions that are necessary “to protect the life or property of a person.” AHC will monitor implementation of the new law.
Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapy (EAAT)
Equine Assisted Services
Since Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the horse industry has supported increased federal funding of Equine Assisted Services (EAS) programs to promote veteran health. For the FY 2020 budget, Congress allocated $1.5 million for the Adaptive Sports Program within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). A similar allocation has been made for FY 2021. In another victory for EAS, Congress passed the Whole Veteran Act (H.R. 2359) in 2020, a law which authorizes a study of the effectiveness of various treatments for veterans, including EAS.
Guest Worker Visas
Guest Worker Visa Reform
The horse industry and its allies continue to urge Congress to pass important legislation that will provide relief for chronic labor shortages. In addition to advocating for legislation, to bridge a long-term gap between labor needs, and worker supply, the horse industry is currently collecting data to develop a certification program for equine professionals. This would create incentives for U.S. students and workers to establish careers in the horse industry. To meet immediate labor needs, however, the industry currently relies on two major guest worker programs managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), specifically the H-2A and H-2B programs. Unfortunately, piles of red tape and ambiguous work requirements delay the issuance of timely visas and prevent the horse industry and other sectors from hiring the workers they need.
H-2B Guest Worker Visas – AHC and its allies in the H-2B Workforce Coalition successfully advocated for “cap flexibility” within the FY 2020 spending law. As in years past, the funding bill addresses the stringent 66,000 visa cap and gives DHS authority to effectively double the number of visas authorized by the cap.
H-2A Guest Worker Visas – In September 2019, AHC met with officials at the White House to endorse proposed efficiencies to the H-2A visa program and advocated for broader horse industry eligibility to participate in the program. The Administration is expected to release a final rule pursuant to the regulatory proposal in early 2020. In late 2019, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act which includes many of the same efficiencies outlined in the Administration’s proposal. Unfortunately for industry, the House bill also includes stringent E–verify requirements and other mandates. A path forward in the Senate remains uncertain.
Long Term Legislative Vehicles – The horse industry and its partners continue to work with federal lawmakers to move legislation that will address labor shortages in the long term, addressing the stringent H-2B visa “cap,” and ambiguous requirements under the H-2A program that limit participation from the horse industry. While AHC has offered input for several reform measures, the prospects for enacting legislation during the 2020 election cycle poses a major challenge.
Recreation and Trails
AHC is currently focusing its federal lands advocacy on two key bills: the bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act (ROPA) of 2019 (H.R. 1225/S. 500); and the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act (H.R. 3879/ S. 1665). Both bills will expedite maintenance projects and increase access to the nation’s trails for recreational riders and other outdoor enthusiasts. Other priorities include resources for the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and Highway Trust Fund resources for trails projects:
Restore Our Parks Act – ROPA establishes a new revenue stream to move forward with deferred maintenance projects. It would support National Park Service trails by devoting energy development revenues to a new public land restoration fund dedicated to maintenance projects. H.R. 1225 has gained more than 300 co-sponsors since being introduced in February 2019, a super-majority of supporters in the House. The senate version of the bill, S. 500, is gaining supporters and has been referred to its committee of jurisdiction.
SOAR Act – This bill directs federal agencies to eliminate duplicative processes when issuing permits, streamlines environmental reviews, and allows outdoor enthusiasts to use a single permit for activity that is substantially similar to the activity memorialized in the original permit. The House version of the bill, H.R. 3879 was introduced in the House in July 2019, and the senate version of the bill, S. 1665, was introduced in March 2019
Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – In the wake of permanent authorization of the LWCF in the “lands package” passed in early 2019, Congress included funding for the LWCF at its highest levels in 15 years in the FY 2020 spending bill. The LWCF supports various conservation projects, including conservation easements that promote riding on public lands.
Recreation Trails Program (RTP) fuel tax study – The FY 2020 spending package also authorizes a study of non-highway recreational fuel taxes received by the Secretary of the Treasury and transferred to the Highway Trust Fund. Results from such a study could be used to leverage efforts to more adequately fund backlog trails maintenance projects
Next Steps – In 2020, lawmakers have discussed development of a “recreation package” that would include ROPA and SOAR. During recent meetings with members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (SENR), GOP and Democratic offices expressed support for a package of recreation-focused bills that could move in 2020. In addition to advocating for a “recreation package,” AHC continues to urge House lawmakers to use expedited procedures to send ROPA – which counts three-quarters of the House membership as an official co-sponsor – to the floor for a vote where it is assured bipartisan passage.
Sports Betting Overview
On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in the landmark Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) decision. Passed in 1992, the law banned most states from authorizing sports gambling. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, many states have moved forward with state-level programs. According to an industry study, the number of states enacting sports betting programs will climb to 25 to 37 by 2023, and generate anywhere from $3.1 billion to $5.2 billion in revenue.
While most legislative activity related to sports betting takes place at the state level, Washington policy makers have discussed a possible federal framework to establish “ground rules” for state programs. These baseline standards might address consumer protection and public welfare issues such as gambling addiction, and assurances that bets are honored in a timely manner. That said, no federal legislation moved during the 116th Congress. Because so many states are moving forward with their own programs, the possibility for federal legislation gaining traction in 2021, or at any time during the 117th Congress, is highly uncertain.
Federal Tax Policy
Major federal policy developments related to tax issues continue to change the tax landscape for the horse industry: implementation and changes to landmark tax reform legislation that passed in late 2017; and ongoing advocacy to extend tax credits for racehorses. The following are some highlights:
“Tax Extenders” – Three Year Depreciation for Racehorses – Following a two-year campaign, the horse industry successfully advocated for inclusion of the three-year depreciation credit for racehorses in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 spending package. This provision, which eliminated the 7-year depreciation period for racehorses and made all racehorses eligible for three-year depreciation, originally expired at the end of 2016 and was subsequently extended through 2017. Fortunately for industry, the new spending law applies retroactively and will be available through 2020. In October, Rep. Barr (R-KY) introduced legislation making the three-year depreciation of racehorses permanent.
Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) – Importantly for many AHC member associations and the non-profit world at large, the FY2020 spending bill also included a repeal of the 21 percent UBIT imposed on non-profit organizations that provide transportation and parking benefits to their employees. Widely referred to as the “church tax,” repeal of the unpopular UBIT provision has emerged as the most significant “roll back” of the new tax law.
Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment – AHC supports programs that increase access to veterinary medicine services in rural areas. These policies will help safeguard animal health and welfare, food safety, animal disease surveillance and public health. In 2019, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment (VMLR) Act (S. 1163), a bill that would decrease the tax liability for veterinarians practicing in under-served areas. Congress has established a similar program for physicians, dentists and other healthcare professionals who choose to practice in areas of the country where access to basic healthcare services is limited. Veterinary shortages exist in more than 250 rural communities covering 1100 counties across the country. Senate lawmakers have referred S. 1163 to the Finance Committee.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding – Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)
Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding – Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
The American Horse Council is a Guidestar Silver Participant
The AHC believes that the more opportunities available to use horses in various activities, the better the overall health of the industry and those who participate.
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