Since Congress reconvened after its August recess, its members have focused on two things—job creation and the debt reduction Super Committee. President Obama has introduced his own jobs plan, which has Congressional Republicans and Democrats at odds on how that plan should become a reality, if at all. And all eyes are on the six-member Super Committee that is set to recommend $1.2 trillion in cuts to the federal budget by November 23rd. Anticipating the impact of these cuts, the AVMA's Governmental Relations Division (GRD) has been lobbying to maintain funding for key programs, including USDA's enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.
Despite its focus on economics, Congress continues to introduce new animal welfare-related legislation. On July 14, 2011, Congressman Mike Doyle (PA-10th) introduced H.R. 2492, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2011. The following week Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (who has previously served criminal time for operating an interstate dog fighting venture) and the HSUS held a joint press conference on Capitol Hill. H.R. 2492 would amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit knowing attendance at an animal fight or causing a minor to attend an animal fight. It also imposes criminal and civil penalties for violations. The AVMA policy on animal fighting condemns events involving animals in which injury or death is intended and supports increased enforcement against such activities.
On September 19, 2011 Congressman Dan Burton (IN-5th) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-9th) introduced H.R. 2966, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, with 57 original cosponsors. The bill is identical to S. 1176, which was introduced on the Senate side in June. These bills would amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donating horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption. The AVMA has actively opposed this legislation in the past because it lacks provisions to address the welfare of horses that could not be slaughtered. Horse slaughter has not occurred in the United States since 2007 when state bans and restrictions on funds for USDA inspections of horse processing forced the last remaining facilities to close. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study in June titled Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter. This study confirmed that the closure of the processing plants, coupled with the poor economy and high feed costs, has had a negative impact on horse welfare in the United States. Results include an increase in horse abandonments, abuse, and neglect, as well as horses having to travel much longer distances to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered. The AVMA belongs to the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which works to reduce the number of unwanted horses and to improve their welfare through education and the efforts of member organizations committed to the health, safety, and responsible care and disposition of horses.
On July 5, 2011 Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) introduced S. 1324, the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to treat nonhuman primates as prohibited wildlife species, with exemptions for zoos and research facilities. In the 111th Congress, this bill was passed by the House, but never made it to the floor in the Senate. S. 1324 has an exception for the use of nonhuman primates as service animals, which conflicts with AVMA policy opposing the use of nonhuman primates for this purpose. While it has supported the overall intent of the bill, as a result of the latter exemption the AVMA has opposed this legislation during previous Congressional sessions.
Finally, on September 8, 2011 the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs took action on two bills, H.R. 198, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act and H.R. 1154, the VETS Dogs Act. H.R. 2074, the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act, was amended to include the language of H.R. 1154 and a modification of H.R. 198. The AVMA had indicated its support for H.R. 1154, but had taken no action on H.R. 198. The American Legion reports the modified language included from H.R. 198 "will help to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) partners with Assistance Dog International organizations, International Guide Dog Federation Organizations, and academic affiliates or other organizations with equivalent credentials, which have experience in teaching others to train service dogs. These organizations will partner with VA for the purpose of advising VA on the design, development, and implementation of the VA pilot service dog program." Amended H.R. 2074 passed the House on October 11th and was received in the Senate.
Fall is generally a quiet time for state legislatures, however we continue to see important legislation enacted that impacts animal welfare.
In August New York SB 3237 and AB 4407 amended subdivision 5, section 351, of the agriculture and markets law, to increase penalties for attending animal-fighting events.
Recently, two important animal welfare related bills have become law in California. SB 425 increases penalties for certain animal cruelty violations and AB 1117 requires a court, upon conviction of a person for certain animal-related crimes, to enter an order enjoining the person from owning, possessing, maintaining, having custody of, residing with, or caring for any animal within a specified period after conviction.
Notable regulatory developments include adoption by the Oklahoma Board of Commercial Pet Breeders of regulations that specify licensing requirements for commercial pet breeders and outline minimum standards by which a commercial pet breeder must abide. In addition, animal care rules developed by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board became effective on September 29, 2011. Ohio is the first state to adopt comprehensive standards for livestock care, which include management, transportation and slaughter regulations covering all types of farm animals. Comprehensive livestock care standards are required by Ohio's constitution subsequent to passage of State Issue 2 in 2009.
The AVMA's Legislative Advisory Committee and State Advocacy Committee work closely with its Animal Welfare Committee in reviewing proposals addressing animal welfare. For more information on the latest bills and regulations pending around the country, view resources compiled by our Governmental Relations Division and Department of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, or contact Dr. Whitney Miller, Assistant Director, Governmental Relations Division (for federal issues) or Mr. Adrian Hochstadt, Assistant Director, Communications Division, State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs (for state issues).
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