Senate Acts Quickly to Move Farm Bill, Advances Some Animal Health Priorities

June 29th, 2018

Senate Acts Quickly to Move Farm Bill, Advances Some Animal Health Priorities

Following through on a commitment to pass a farm bill prior to the Fourth of July recess, on Thursday evening, June 28, the Senate passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (S. 3042) by a vote of 86 to 11. Unlike the House version of the bill that narrowly passed by a two vote margin on June 21, the Senate bill moved forward with strong, bipartisan support. Fortunately for the horse industry, the Senate package resembles the House version by addressing many of the sector’s top animal health priorities.   Highlights include authorization of a new National Animal Disaster Preparedness and Response (NADPR) program; support for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN); and creation of the National Animal Health Vaccine Bank that will focus on risks posed by Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).

With respect to authorization of animal health programs, a preliminary review shows that the Senate bill more closely aligns with horse industry priorities than the House bill. For example, the Senate bill authorizes $30 million each year to fund the NAHLN, matching the request from the horse industry and its partners.  Although the bill doesn’t authorize specific dollar amounts for the NADPR and the vaccine banks, it creates flexibility by “authorizing sums as necessary” to implement the programs.

AHC will continue to review the senate version of the bill for provisions that could impact the industry, including programs administered by the Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service that could help develop international markets for the sector. Now that each chamber has reported its respective bill, Congress will convene a House and Senate Conference Committee to negotiate a final package to send to the White House for enactment.  AHC is already reaching out to congressional negotiators to underscore the industry’s priorities as the legislation moves forward. For more information related to farm legislation and related advocacy, please contact Bryan Brendle, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at 202-296-4031.  To view a copy of a summary of the bill, please click here:

https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/2018-farm-bill

Farm Bill, Take 2! House Lawmakers Pass Ag Legislation, Boost Animal Health Programs

June 21, 2018

House Lawmakers Pass Ag Legislation, Boost Animal Health Programs

In the wake of a failed vote on the 2018 farm bill on May 18 – largely precipitated by controversy surrounding unrelated immigration policy issues – on June 21, House lawmakers revisited the legislation and finally passed the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) by a vote of 213 to 211.  Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he plans to pass companion legislation in the upper chamber before July 4, Congress appears to be poised to finalize a bill prior to expiration of Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs on September 30.  During meetings on Capitol Hill the week of June 11, multiple senate offices echoed a commitment to the deadline, reminding members of the horse industry that the chamber is prepared to work into the August recess to complete its legislative business prior to the mid-term elections in the fall.         

Fortunately for the horse industry, the $868 billion, five-year package includes provisions addressing some of AHC’s top priorities:  authorization of a new National Animal Disaster Preparedness and Response (NADPR) program; additional support for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network; and creation of the National Animal Health Vaccine Bank that will prioritize risks posed by Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), among other threats. 

A preliminary review of the bill shows that although lawmakers generally met industry’s full funding request – totaling $250 million for the priority issues outlined above – for FY2019 only, the bill reduces those funds during subsequent fiscal years.  For example, the horse industry and its partners requested $70 million each year to fund the NADPR, but received $30 million for 2020 and beyond.  Fortunately for the horse industry, the final bill authorizes $150 million for a “priority FMD vaccine bank,” opening the door for funding vaccines that will mitigate other diseases.

AHC will continue to advocate for industry priorities as the legislation moves forward.  To view a copy of the legislation, please click here: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr2/BILLS-115hr2rh.pdf.   

Successful Barr Amendment Gives $5 Million Boost to Equine-Assisted Therapy for Veterans

On Friday, June 8, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 5895, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) Appropriations Act.  Per an amendment offered by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the House bill increases funds for Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) by $5 million.  Specifically, the Barr amendment directs appropriators to “transfer $5 million from the VA’s Health Administration’s (VHA) Medical Community Care Account to the Medical Services Account for the explicit use for the VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant (ASG) program, equine assisted therapy.” On Monday, June 4, AHC sent a letter of support to House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) urging the committee to rule the Barr amendment “in order” so that it could be adopted on the House floor.

By way of background, Congress has already endorsed robust EAAT measures by approving increased funds for EAAT within the FY2018 omnibus.  By approving the Barr Amendment to FY 2019 appropriations, Congress re-enforces an important commitment to our nation’s warriors when they return from combat.  According to a clinical study conducted in conjunction with Columbia University, an estimated 14% to 30% of U.S. veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Congress can help mitigate PTSD by boosting EAAT. 

The U.S. horse industry employs nearly one million Americans and contributes $122 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  EAAT programs not only provide valuable services for U.S. veterans, but the operations also support jobs for a growing number of working Americans, and “second careers” for horses who would otherwise retire from racing or other working roles.  According to a 2017 economic impact study, EAAT supports more than 6,700 jobs and generates $311.7 million in annual revenues in the U.S.  If you have questions related to AHC’s support for Rep. Barr’s Amendment to H.R. 5895, please contact Bryan Brendle, AHC’s Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at 202-296-4031. 

DHS Sets High Bar for 15,000 Extra H-2B Visas for Racetracks, Horse Farms, Other Seasonal Employers

Following several weeks of tense discussions between Congress and the Administration, on June 1 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule in the Federal Register authorizing issuance of 15,000 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.  As reported this spring, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to raise its cap on H-2B temporary worker visas from the current cap of 66,000 to 129,500 visas for FY2018 within the context of the omnibus appropriations law passed in late March.  DHS states that by issuing 15,000 extra H-2B visas – significantly below the additional 63,500 authorized by the FY2018 omnibus – the agency will prioritize employers who demonstrate that they would suffer “irreparable harm” to their business unless they are able to hire additional seasonal workers during the summer and fall 2018 seasons.  DHS further states that it seeks to avoid possible abuse of the H-2B program by limiting the pool of extra visas to 15,000.    

According to the rule, DHS punts the broader temporary worker shortage issue to Congress, urging lawmakers to reform the Immigration and Nationality Act, which establishes the H-2B visa program.  During the course of the extended back-and-forth discussions between the legislative and executive branches this spring, DHS claims that only congressional action can provide long-term certainty with respect to the issuance of more guest worker visas.  According to federal regulators, addressing worker shortages through the annual appropriations process fails to create certainty, undercutting the ability of the business community to plan long-term.        

Since moving forward with a limited cap increase, DHS’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has outlined some practical considerations for filing an H-2B petition per the new regulation: 

  • An employer “must meet all existing H-2B eligibility requirements,” which includes receipt of “an approved temporary labor certification (TLC) from the Department of Labor (DOL) that is valid for the entire employment period stated on the petition.”  DHS reminds employers that “the employment start date on the petition must match the employment start date on the TLC, even if that date has passed.”
  • Employers must also “conduct a fresh round of recruitment for U.S. workers if the TLC contains a start date of work before April 15, 2018.”
  • And finally, a business must “submit an attestation on Form ETA 9142-B-CAA-2 (PDF)in which the petitioner affirms, under penalty of perjury, its business will likely suffer irreparable harm if it cannot hire all the requested H-2B workers before the end of the fiscal year.”  The agency provides Form ETA 9142-B-CAA-2 Instructions (PDF) to properly complete the attestation.
  • DHS further states that it “will not accept” an “expired ETA 9142-B-CAA from fiscal year 2017.” The agency will reject any “petition that does not include the new ETA 9142-B-CAA-2 attestation form for fiscal year 2018.” 

Recognizing the time constraints associated with the application process, DHS states that it will “adjudicate” applications within 15 calendar days for employers opting for “premium processing,” and 30 days for standard applications.  To learn more about how to fast-track an H-2B visa application, please click on the following link:  https://www.uscis.gov/forms/how-do-i-use-premium-processing-service. The unprecedented demand for guest worker visas this year will create a narrow time frame in which to submit an application.   

As details unfold related to practical considerations associated with the new rule, AHC will continue to inform members about developments and helpful anecdotes for members who are considering moving forward with summer applications. 

As a reminder, AHC will be conducting a panel discussion featuring congressional and industry experts on Tuesday, June 12, in Washington, D.C., as part of the association’s annual meeting.   To view a copy of the final rule, click here:  https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-05-31/pdf/2018-11732.pdf.  To learn more about guest worker visas and broader immigration policy developments, please contact AHC’s Bryan Brendle at bbrendle@horsecouncil.org or 202-296-4031. 

Bill Introduced in Senate in Response to ELD Mandate

On May 23, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) introduced the ‘‘Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act,” in an effort to insulate the livestock industry from the changes facing the commercial trucking industry.  In it the Secretary of Transportation shall amend the federal regulations to ensure that a driver transporting livestock or insects within a 300 air-mile radius from the point at which the driver begins the trip shall exclude all time spent;

  1. at a plant, terminal, facility, or other property of a motor carrier or shipper or on any public property during which the driver is waiting to be dispatched;
  2. loading or unloading a commercial motor vehicle;
  3. supervising or assisting in the loading or unloading of a commercial motor vehicle;
  4. attending to a commercial motor vehicle while the vehicle is being loaded or unloaded;
  5. remaining in readiness to operate a commercial motor vehicle; and
  6. giving or receiving receipts for shipments loaded or unloaded;

Also, the driving time is modified to a maximum of not less than 15, and not more than 18, hours within a 24-hour period, wherein the driver may take 1 or more rest periods during the trip, which shall not be included in the calculation of the driving time. After completion of the trip, the driver shall be required to take a rest break for a period that is 5 hours less than the total driving time (10 hour rest for a 15 hour trip).

Finally, if the driver is within 150 air-miles of the point of delivery, any additional driving to that point of delivery shall not be included in the calculation of the driving time; and the 10-hour rest period that currently exists shall not apply prior to unloading.

The American Horse Council will continue to work to limit unnecessary regulatory burden on the horse industry while encouraging legislation that protects the health, welfare and safety of America’s horses and drivers.

Please contact Cliff Williamson at the American Horse Council with any questions.

Sens. Crapo (R-ID), Warner (D-VA) Lead Bi-Partisan PAST Act of 2018

On Thursday, May 24,  Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2018 (S. 2957), legislation which is identical to the House companion, H.R. 1847, championed by Reps. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR). Several senators have signed onto the bill as original cosponsors, including Sens. Moran (R-KS), Collins (R-ME), Blumenthal (D-CT), Feinstein (D-CA), McCaskill (D-MO) and Markey (D-MA), Daines (R-MT) and Toomey (R-PA).

The PAST Act lays out common sense solutions to prevent the continued practice of taking action on a horse’s limb, aka “soring,” to produce an accentuated gait for competition. The bill would take important steps to build on the progress made since passage of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970, which precipitated a dramatic decline in the practice of soring a horse’s limb. The legislation would amend the HPA to establish a new system for inspecting horses, revise penalties for violations of the Act, and modify enforcement procedures.

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce. The AHC will continue to advocate for additional co-sponsors in order to move this important legislation forward.

To view a copy of a statement from the office of Sen. Warner (D-VA), please click here:
https://www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/5/warner-crapo-introduce-legislation-to-prevent-horse-soring.

Supreme Court Opens State Sports Betting Flood Gates, Sen. Hatch Offers Federal Framework

Today the Supreme Court released its opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, rejecting the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a federal statute which effectively banned sports gambling in most state jurisdictions.  In a six to three opinion, the high court reversed a 2016 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which upheld the federal law.  Importantly, the court affirmed Congress’s authority to regulate sports betting directly.  However, the court struck PASPA on the grounds that the statute infringed on a state’s ability to “authorize” gambling within its jurisdiction, thereby violating the constitutional principle of “dual sovereignty.”  The court states that in the event Congress doesn’t place direct regulations on gambling, then states are free to enact betting laws as they see fit. 

While today’s decision gives the green light for individual states to move forward with sports gambling schemes, Congress was quick to offer a legislative fix to address the role of the federal government in sports gambling activity.  Not long after the release of the Supreme Court decision, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced that he plans to introduce legislation that he states will remedy a “patchwork” of state laws that won’t adequately protect the “integrity of sports.”  As an original sponsor of PASPA when it was enacted in 1992, Sen. Hatch states that his legislation will “protect consumers, safeguard against underage and problem gambling, and help states who choose not to permit sports betting within their borders.”

“Until today, pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing has been the only legal form of sports wagering available throughout most of the United States at both physical locations and online. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled PASPA unconstitutional, states are free to regulate sports betting as they see fit. Horse racing must rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by this expansion of sports betting,” stated Alex Waldrop, Chairman of AHC’s Racing Committee and President of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. 

AHC will provide a more detailed analysis of the Supreme Court decision and legislative responses during the days ahead.  To view a copy of the Supreme Court decision, please click here:  https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-476_dbfi.pdf.  To view a copy of Sen. Hatch’s (R-UT) announcement for a federal framework for sports gambling, please click here: https://www.hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/releases?ID=02C2FD7A-6D68-40B9-8002-BA458CF4DD4F 

House Natural Resources Committee Approves Recreation-Not-Red Tape (RNR) Act

April 18, 2018

On April 18, the House Natural Resources Committee convened a “mark-up” to consider amendments to H.R. 3400, the Recreation-Not-Red Tape (RNR) Act, and ultimately passed the legislation by voice vote.   A debate over an amendment offered by Rep. Elizabeth Cheney (R-WY) that would have removed a provision outlining a National Recreation Area System from the legislation preceded the vote on the final bill.  The amendment, which Chairman Bishop opposed, failed by a vote of 27 to nine.   Today’s committee action gives the RNR Act the green light to advance to the House floor, on a date to be determined. 

H.R. 3400 and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 1633, expand the scope of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (PL 114-245), signed into law in late 2016.  While the RNR Act focuses on streamlined permitting to access public lands, the bill includes provisions that would authorize the Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to enter into cooperative agreements with private parties to promote the role of volunteers in trail maintenance.  The bill also authorizes the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and BLM to develop an interagency trail management plan that will assure uniform maintenance standards for trails crossing jurisdictional lines between the two agencies. 

During recent months, the scope of the bill has expanded to include provisions of the “GO Act,” which streamlines the permitting process for guides and outfitters operating on public lands; and the “21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act,” which promotes the employment of veterans and youth to work on public lands projects.  To view a copy of a statement from Chairman Bishop applauding passage of the bill, please click here:  https://naturalresources.house.gov/newsroom/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=404531

If you would like more information about the RNR Act and related lobbying activity, please contact Bryan Brendle at bbrendle@horsecouncil.org or 202-296-4031.       

Congress Delivers H-2B Visa “Cap Relief,” ELD Flexibility in Omnibus Bill

March 23, 2018

Shortly after 12:30 am, on Friday, March 23, Congress approved a massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 to fund federal government operations through September 30.  The 2,232 page bill includes several regulatory measures that will provide flexibility for the horse industry, most notably H-2B visa cap relief for seasonal, guest workers and a temporary enforcement exemption for the transportation of livestock from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) regulations.  The legislation also includes policy “riders” to defund Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs that will impact the equine sector and broader agriculture economy.  

Lawmakers Raise the Ceiling on H-2B Guest-Worker Visas:

Despite opposition from a large number of lawmakers from both political parties, the horse industry and its allies persuaded Congress to effectively raise the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cap on H-2B temporary worker visas from the current cap of 66,000 to 129,500 visas for FY2018.   A provision tying the number of H-2B visas to a number not to exceed the maximum number of participants from the returning worker program in a previous year has effectively doubled the number of visas the agency may issue in 2018.  Because of the fast approaching seasonal labor needs for breeding farms, race tracks, and other seasonal employers, AHC and its partners are urging DHS to implement the flexibility measures as quickly as possible to mitigate paperwork bottlenecks during the remainder of the year.  Other key H-2B provisions include acceptance of private wage surveys to determine “prevailing wage” requirements, and language that defines “seasonal need” as a 10-month period within the context of the program.  The coalition has already begun to focus efforts on creating permanent cap relief in future legislative vehicles.  This would decouple the H-2B visa issue from the annual appropriations process and create an environment of investment certainty.

Congress Delays ELD Enforcement for Livestock to September 30:

On the heels of the DOT’s March 13 issuance of an additional 90-day exemption from ELD enforcement requirements for livestock, the bill includes a provision that would defund enforcement to at least September 30, which is the official end of the fiscal year.  The delay will provide DOT and industry stakeholders more time to educate livestock haulers on the proper scope of the ELD mandate, which has caused uncertainty since being finalized in late 2015.  Furthermore, industry’s September 2017 request to push back the compliance deadline by a full year is still outstanding, leaving the possibility of another enforcement delay for livestock.   

Lawmakers Fully Fund Tax Law Implementation, Defund Horse Slaughter Inspections, EPA Ag Emission and Reporting Rules: 

In a rare move to increase resources for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Congress appropriated an additional $320 million through September 2019 for the nation’s tax collectors to help assure a smooth implementation of the 2017 tax law.  The omnibus also includes a rider that bans funding of USDA personnel to inspect horses prior to slaughter, a provision which lawmakers have renewed within multiple spending bills during previous years to effectively shut down horse slaughter in the U.S.  On the EPA front, the bill also defunds enforcement of rules that would do the following: 

  • Mandate the reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from decomposing animal waste located on farms;
  • And reporting air emissions from farms resulting from hazardous substances, pursuant to the nation’s Superfund law.

AHC will deliver updates on more details within the 2018 omnibus spending package that impact the horse industry as they emerge.  To view a copy of the 2232 page bill, please click here:  https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20180319/BILLS-115SAHR1625-RCP115-66.pdf.  If you have questions about FY2018 appropriations, please contact Bryan Brendle, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at bbrendle@horsecouncil.org.

FMCSA Announces New ELD Waiver

March 13, 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today announced additional steps to address the unique needs of the country’s agriculture industries and provided further guidance to assist in the effective implementation of the Congressionally-mandated electronic logging device (ELD) rule without impeding commerce or safety.

FMCSA is announcing an additional 90-day temporary waiver from the ELD rule for agriculture related transportation. Additionally, during this time period, FMCSA will publish final guidance on both the agricultural 150 air-mile hours-of-service exemption and personal conveyance.

It is important to note that this 90 days is an extension of the previous 90 days given to all agriculture commodity haulers.  This is not a final decision on the livestock specific ELD exemption request filed in September—a determination on that request is still to be made. The AHC will continue to push for this exemption along with other livestock industry associations. The welfare, safety, and health of the animals in transit, together with the safety of other drivers on the road, are top priorities for the equine industry and its enthusiasts.

The AHC will continue to work with the FMCSA and the DOT during this delay to better meet the needs of the animal agriculture community to ensure that there are no unintended consequences from current ELD regulations.

If you have any questions, please contact the AHC.

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