October 1, 2018
Horse Industry Gathers in DC, Moves Key Priorities Toward the Finish Line!
On Wednesday, September 26 and Thursday, September 27, horse industry representatives gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers and advocate for passage of the industry’s top legislative priorities. During a meeting with leaders of the Congressional Horse Caucus and other industry allies on September 26, members learned more about positive developments related to a funding boost for equine assisted therapy and industry-specific provisions of the 2018 farm bill and guest worker visa legislation. Prospects for another enforcement delay for the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate and progress on trails legislation also emerged as reasons to run into the home-stretch of the 115th Congress on a high note. During the two day meeting series, horse industry advocates met in the offices of more than 35 elected officials. Below are summaries of highlights emerging from the Fall “Ride-In.”
Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) Emerges as a Win-Win for Heroes and Horses
Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) briefed horse industry representatives on the latest boost to EAT funding included in the new FY2019 Veterans’ Affairs spending bill, which the president signed into law on September 21. The new law increases EAT funding to $1.5 million, a 50 percent increase from FY2018 levels. Rep. Barr (R-KY) spoke passionately about the dual benefits to veterans returning to civilian life, and the opportunities for working horses to have “second careers” as therapeutic animals. Studies show that EAT can effectively treat post-traumatic stress disorder that afflicts many U.S. veterans.
Farm Legislation Includes Cutting-Edge Animal Health Programs, Lawmakers Address Industry-Specific Statutory Definition
While the industry has successfully advocated for a trifecta of livestock health programs in both versions of the farm bill – creation of the National Animal Health Vaccine bank, a new National Disaster Preparedness Program and support for the National Animal Health and Laboratory Network – differences over the scope of nutrition assistance programs have stalled agreement on a final package. House Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-PA) informed AHC that he believed that the House and Senate would ultimately find common ground on a final bill before the end of the year. Echoing statements made during several meetings, Rep. Thompson (R-PA) also expressed optimism that the final bill would drop language included in the senate version that defines horses as “pets” within the context of a “Pet and Women Safety” (PAWS) provision. Industry has suggested that lawmakers delete “horses” from the proposed, statutory definition of “pets,” but retain “horses” as a stand-alone category. This would retain the long-standing classification of horses as “livestock,” while allowing equines to fall within the scope of property damage subject to compensation within the parameters of the PAWS Act.
Congressional Allies Continue to Fight for Guest-Worker Visa Flexibility, Equine-Specific Labor Needs
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) discussed the AG and Legal Workforce Act of 2018 (H.R. 6417), which would reform the broken agricultural guest worker visa program. Among other benefits to the industry, the legislation clearly states that personnel involved in the “management and training of equines” will qualify to participate in a newly-created H-2C visa program for farm workers. Since Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the bill in late June, it has gained 110 co-sponsors.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) discussed a second vehicle important to the industry, his provision in the FY2019 DHS (H.R. 6776) appropriation which addresses the stringent 66,000 cap imposed on the issuance of H-2B visas by providing an exemption for returning workers. This “returning worker” exemption not only provides much needed cap relief, but will reduce red tape for seasonal employers. Congress will likely not finalize the bill until after the November election.
Will Trails Legislation Cross the Finish Line?
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) lauded the fact that both the Recreation Not Red-Tape (RNR) Act (H.R. 3400) and the Restore Our Parks Act (H.R. 6510) passed his committee favorably, and are placed on the House calendar for a possible vote before the end of the year. While neither companion bill in the Senate has yet received a hearing, senate aides stated that there was reason to be optimistic that Restore Our Parks (S. 3172) would receive a hearing in the fall. Of the two major trails bills that the horse industry supports, it appears that Restore Our Parks, which would address backlog trails maintenance, has the better chance of crossing the finish line before the end of the year. Stay tuned.
Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act Gains Supporters
No new information emerged during the meeting series to raise the prospects for passage of the PAST Act. However, the Senate version of the bill (S. 2957) has gained 32 cosponsors. Sen. Crapo’s (R-ID) office stated that they were optimistic that the bill would have no shortage of supporters during the next congress. AHC will continue to keep you updated on any changes to the prospects for this important equine health legislation.
Horse Industry Focuses on Congressional Leaders, Leverages Message
While the bulk of the Hill meetings during the ride-in focused on constituent-specific officials, the industry also met with leaders who have jurisdiction over the sector’s major legislative issues. Horse industry representatives were able to meet with chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee and House Natural Resources Committee, as well as the Vice Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. On the Senate side, AHC members and guests talked to senior staff in the offices of the Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, among others. If you’d like more information related to the meeting series and next steps, please contact Bryan Brendle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-296-4031.
Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY) and David Valadao (R-CA) kick off a meeting of the Congressional Horse Caucus.