The beginning of 2012 starts a new season for Congress, with a focus on getting re-elected. While much media attention is on the run for the presidency, there are also many members of Congress that have announced their retirement, leaving open seats for the taking. Many experts in Washington feel political control of Congress is up for grabs, and believe it is a toss-up as to whether Republicans or Democrats will be the ones that come out on top.
In February President Obama released the Presidential budget, which kicked off appropriations season in Congress, The AVMA has laid out its appropriations priorities and is working diligently to see that programs important to veterinary medicine are funded. In February the AVMA sent an alert to its members through the AVMA-CAN to ask their representatives in Congress to sign-on to a Dear Colleague letter requesting funding be maintained for critical animal welfare programs including the Horse Protection Program, enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which places veterinarians in underserved areas of the country.
Also, in the early part of the year, several new pieces of legislation addressing issues of animal welfare have been introduced.
On March 29, 2012 Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (PA-8th) introduced H.R. 4306, the Captive Primate Safety Act. This is the companion bill, and identical, to S. 1324, which was introduced by Senator Boxer (CA) last July. This bill would amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to treat nonhuman primates as prohibited wildlife species, allowing 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. H.R. 4306 has an exception for the use of nonhuman primates as service animals, which conflicts directly with AVMA policy on Nonhuman Primates as Assistance Animals. The AVMA has accordingly been opposed to this legislation in the past.
On March 1, 2012 Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (CA-25th) introduced new legislation titled the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R. 4122). This bill would amend the Lacey Act to clarify provisions enacted by the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, with the goal to further the conservation of certain wildlife species. The bill would prohibit private possession of big cats except at certain facilities, such as accredited zoos. Violators would face fines and possible jail time. The AVMA is currently reviewing this legislation, and has concerns that provisions in the bill may weaken rules prohibiting private ownership of big cats, rather than strengthen them. This bill comes in the wake of the tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio where dozens of animals, including many big cats, were released by their owner, and subsequently killed. The AVMA has policy on Private Ownership of Wild Animals that advocates for limits on private ownership.
Finally, in February, Congressman Walter Jones (NC-3rd) and Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced H.R. 4103/S. 2134, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act. This bill would change the classification of military working dogs (MWDs) from equipment to ‘canine members of the armed forces,’ allow dogs unsuitable for adoption to be transferred to other military locations to live out their lives, direct the Department of Defense to establish and maintain a system to provide for lifetime care of retired and adopted MWDs, and require the creation of military decorations that could be bestowed on MWDs for meritorious or courageous acts of service. The AVMA is currently reviewing this legislation, and investigating concerns related to the adoption process for MWDs.
Animal welfare-related bills signed into state law during the past quarter include:
Breed-specific legislation is being considered or has been enacted by legislators in multiple states. In Illinois, HB 1080 proposes to remove a ban on classifying dogs as "vicious" based on breed. Michigan HB 4714 proposes phasing in a prohibition of ownership of pit bulls. Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed HB 14, removing Ohio's status as the only state that includes pit bulls in its definition of vicious dogs. Under that revised law, the classifications of dangerous and vicious dogs are based on the actions of the dog rather than the breed.
Bills related to animal cruelty have also been introduced in several states. Many of these bills are focused on livestock, such as Vermont SB 239, which would prohibit the confinement of sows during gestation and require itinerant slaughterers to adhere to humane standards.
Since Congress has reinstated federal funding for inspection of horse processing facilities, several states are considering related legislation. Massachusetts SB 655 would prohibit horse slaughter for the purpose of human consumption, while New Hampshire HB 1446 would exempt equines from provisions that relate to inspection, processing and sale as meat. Oklahoma HB 2758 would authorize a tax credit for horse-slaughter facilities, and South Dakota HB 1102 would appropriate funds for the study of the feasibility of a horse processing facility in the state.
The AVMA’s Legislative Advisory Committee and State Advocacy Committee work closely with its Animal Welfare Committee to review 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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