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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Look Back at the First Session of the 114th Congress

Federal lawmakers have concluded their work for 2015, and will pick up where they left off in mid-January. Washington saw plenty of gridlock this year, but there were also several important victories for animal protection, including bills that made it over the finish line or have the momentum to do so next year. Here’s my rundown of the advances for animals during the 2015 session:

Omnibus (Consolidated Appropriations Act) Highlights:

A number of the victories for animals came with the $1.1 trillion omnibus funding package, signed into law just before Christmas. With a number of critical animal issues in play, the bill was essentially a clean sweep on all of them, with gains in the following areas:

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Language in the omnibus prevents the resumption in the United States of horse slaughter for human consumption.Photo by Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse slaughter – The omnibus retains “defund” language that’s been enacted over the past several years to prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending funds for inspection of horse slaughter plants.This effectively prevents the resumption in the United States of horse slaughter for human consumption – a practice that is inherently cruel, particularly given the difficulty of properly stunning horses before slaughter, and dangerous because horses are routinely given drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans.

Federal protections for wolves and other endangered species – The omnibus rejects all the new riders in the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct and that calls for science-based decision making to protect wildlife and plants in danger of extinction. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90 percent of American voters. With the extinction of species on earth now at its highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, this law is needed more urgently than ever. 

ARS research on farm animals – The omnibus contains strong language to address abuses uncovered by a New York Times exposé of the Agricultural Research Service’s Meat Animal Research Center. Language directs ARS to ensure that all of its research facilities comply with federal Animal Welfare Act standards, provides $400,000 for inspections, and withholds five percent of the ARS budget until specified animal welfare reforms are fulfilled. 

Alternatives to animal testing and stopping pointless experiments – The omnibus provides a $52.7 million increase for the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which works on developing alternatives to animal testing that are more humane, faster to perform, less costly to industry, and can provide more reliable results than animal experiments not predictive of the human experience. 

Maternal deprivation – The omnibus incorporates by reference House committee report language calling on the NIH to review (in consultation with outside experts) its ethical policies and processes for nonhuman primate research, language that already helped spur NIH to develop a plan to close down one of its primate facilities in Maryland where decades-long research had occurred involving maternal deprivation for infant monkeys.

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The omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Photo by iStockphoto

Ivory rule – The omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Illegal poaching of elephants has reached epidemic proportions, and extinction in the wild looms unless strong action is taken to curb demand. The United States is the second largest market for ivory products after China, and the U.S. and Chinese presidents committed publicly in September to take action in both countries to crack down on the ivory trade.

Wildlife trafficking enforcement – The omnibus provides not less than $80 million (a $25 million increase) under the U.S. Agency for International Development to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, and bars any expenditures to train or assist military units or personnel that the secretary of state determines are credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking, unless the secretary reports that such expenditure is in the national security interests of the United States. Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises internationally, helping finance organized criminal syndicates and terrorist groups such as the Janjaweed and Lord’s Resistance Army. 

Class B dealers – The omnibus denies funds for the USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats, often obtained fraudulently and kept in horrible conditions before being sold for laboratory experiments. These dealers have a long history of trafficking in stolen pets, misrepresenting themselves at animal shelters and in responding to “free to good home” ads.  The vast majority of research facilities long ago stopped relying on such dealers, and in recent years, NIH has prohibited funds for research involving cats and dogs acquired that way. The number of Class B dealers has gone from hundreds two decades ago to only two remaining currently.

Animal welfare enforcement – The omnibus maintains funding for the USDA to enforce and implement key animal protection laws, including the Animal Welfare Act that provides oversight for millions of animals at more than 10,000 sites, including puppy mills and other commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, and circuses; the Horse Protection Act dealing with cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds (deliberately inflicting pain on horses’ legs and hooves to achieve an artificial high-stepping gait and win prizes); the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; the federal animal fighting law; and a program that encourages veterinarians, through student loan repayment assistance, to locate in underserved rural areas and USDA inspection positions.

Wild horses – The omnibus restates the long-standing ban on the killing of healthy wild horses and burros and sale for slaughter, and directs the Bureau of Land Management to continue implementing reforms recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for more humane wild horse and burro population management, including reducing the number of animals rounded up and transferred to long-term holding pens and increasing the use of available humane fertility control methods.

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The omnibus incorporates language directing the USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals. Photo by iStockphoto

Marine mammals – The omnibus incorporates by reference Senate committee report language directing the USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals, including orcas, dolphins, and beluga whales.

Land and Water Conservation Fund – The omnibus contains a 47 percent increase in funding for this program that protects and improves habitat for wildlife and recreational access for nature lovers.

Pet food – The omnibus provides full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes needed reforms for safe pet food.

Authorizing Bill Highlights:

Alternatives to animal testing – The Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act by voice vote in December, reauthorizing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for the first time since it was signed into law almost 40 years ago. The Senate bill contains landmark provisions to reduce – if not eliminate – the use of live animals for chemical testing.  Each year, tens of thousands of animals are killed to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats, and dropped in their eyes, sometimes over a prolonged period, causing horrific deaths.  If these provisions are enacted, it will benefit animals, consumers, industry, and the environment by spurring the use of modern, science-based alternatives that are much more efficient and yield better safety decisions than antiquated animal toxicity testing. The House had already passed its version of TSCA, so we hope House-Senate conferees will hammer out their differences quickly in 2016 and, no matter what, retain the vital Senate language on animal testing.

Amtrak and pets – Congress enacted a transportation package with an amendment directing Amtrak to develop a program that allows passengers to carry their cats and dogs on board certain trains. This will create more opportunities for pets to remain with their families when they have no one to care for them during travel or need to permanently relocate. 

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House and Senate bills named after Cecil the lion were introduced to stop imports of trophies from endangered or threatened animal species. Photo by 500px Prime

Military working dogs – Congress also enacted a defense authorization bill with an amendment to facilitate the adoption of retired military working dogs by their former handlers and their families, law enforcement agencies, or other individuals who will humanely care for these animals. This provision honors the special bond between service members and their trusted dogs.

Wildlife trafficking – The House passed the Global Anti-Poaching Act by voice vote in November to make wildlife trafficking violations predicate offenses under the Travel Act, Money Laundering, and RICO statutes; designate major wildlife trafficking countries; authorize the U.S. Department of Defense to provide training and equipment to fight poaching on the front lines; and promote other needed reforms. Related bills introduced in the Senate have bipartisan support – the Wildlife Trafficking Enforcement Act and the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. In the House, the Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants and Rhinoceros (TUSKER) Act would provide for trade sanctions against countries involved in illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. House and Senate bills named after Cecil, the lion killed by a U.S. trophy hunter, were also introduced to stop imports of trophies from endangered or threatened animal species. We are hopeful that both chambers will reach agreement to pull together key elements of these various bills and enact needed reforms early in 2016.

New and reintroduced priority bills – We are halfway through the 114th Congress, and there is already overwhelming bipartisan support for other priority animal protection legislation. With the momentum building for these bills, we are hopeful they will get over the finish line in 2016, including:

  • Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act – to strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 (which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or impaling of live animals) to prohibit those same extreme acts of malicious animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce, or on federal property (213 House cosponsors and 31 Senate cosponsors).
  • Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act – to make it harder for abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets by: 1) allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases; and 2) authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets (currently only three percent of these shelters allow pets) or help arrange for pet shelter (185 House cosponsors and 27 Senate cosponsors).  
  • Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act – to amend existing federal law to better crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses and certain other breeds to force them to perform an unnaturally high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows (246 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors).
  • Humane Cosmetics Act – to phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the United States, as is the case for more than 1.7 billion consumers who live in countries that have already undertaken such action, including the European Union and India (145 House cosponsors).
  • Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act – to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption (184 House cosponsors and 29 Senate cosponsors).
  • Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research (AWARE) Act – to permanently close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that exempts farm animals used for agricultural research at federal government facilities, and ensure that these animals receive the basic care required under the law (83 House cosponsors and 10 Senate cosponsors).
  • Big Cats and Primates as Pets – to protect public safety and animal welfare, the Captive Primate Safety Act (66 House cosponsors) would bar the interstate trade in chimpanzees and monkeys as pets, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act (50 House cosponsors) would prohibit private ownership of dangerous big cats such as tigers and lions as pets. 

There were dozens of other bills introduced demonstrating the broad interest in animal protection among lawmakers and the public. This year’s results demonstrated that it is still possible to get good things done for animals and that our issues continue to transcend the partisan divide. We look forward to a robust second session of the 114th Congress beginning in January and to the renewed engagement of advocates across the country.  It is this engagement that makes all the difference to our success.

Ask your lawmakers to act on these priority bills»

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