Last night, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and The Humane Society of the United States co-hosted the annual Congressional Humane Awards to honor a bipartisan group of lawmakers who led the way for animals during the last year. Dozens of Senators and Representatives plus staff members from additional offices (and two adorable office dogs) attended the event in the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the federal lawmakers who are working to make the world a better place for animals.
The top awards this year went to Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and John Shimkus, R-Ill., who were honored as the 2016 Humane Legislators of the Year. The Humane Legislator of the Year award recognizes federal lawmakers who have initiated path-breaking animal protection legislation and demonstrably advanced these reforms through the legislative process. These Members of Congress were chosen because of their significant leadership roles and effectiveness, including the enactment of two major legislative victories they shepherded to passage.
In June 2016, Congress passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which reauthorized the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. Sen. Booker championed provisions in the Senate version of the bill to reduce, and ultimately replace, the use of live animals for chemical testing, and advocated for inclusion of that language in the final law. As the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Shimkus was instrumental in negotiating the final package and successfully retaining these provisions to phase out archaic, costly, and non-predictive animal testing protocols in favor of 21st century technology. This action will accelerate the movement away from animal tests for safety substantiation of chemicals, as well as pesticides, biocides, cosmetics, and other regulated substances—potentially savings millions of animals in the years to come. The new scientific approach will be much faster, less costly, more reliable, and far more humane.
Signed into law in October 2016, the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act provides tools to combat the global poaching crisis that threatens elephants, rhinos, tigers, and other species with extinction. Rep. Royce sponsored and secured House passage of this bill, which supports global anti-poaching efforts and increases U.S. collaboration with NGOs and governments of countries affected by wildlife trafficking. Sen. Feinstein sponsored related legislation and ensured that the final package included provisions that allow serious wildlife crimes to trigger substantial penalties under money-laundering statutes, thereby reducing the profitability of poaching and wildlife trafficking. As a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Feinstein also fought for animals on several fronts in the FY16 omnibus spending package, including as part of the leadership team on an amendment that prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil.
Sen. Booker and Rep. Royce also introduced the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act to crack down on brutal shark finning. If enacted, this legislation would make the United States a global leader setting an example for other nations to end the destructive shark fin trade—reducing the number of sharks mutilated for their fins and left to die at sea, just for a bowl of soup. Sen. Booker is part of the duo leading an effort in the Senate to require greater transparency in pork and beef checkoff programs used as a slush fund by agribusiness lobbying groups. In addition, he’s trying to create a pilot program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide service dogs to wounded veterans. He’s fought the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, including on national wildlife refuges, and excluded “trapping” from the definition of “hunting” to assure that using body-gripping traps is not a priority on federal lands.
In addition to their legislative work, these leaders also weighed in with federal agencies on critical rulemaking efforts. In 2016, Sens. Booker and Feinstein encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finalize a rule stopping the mistreatment of downer veal calves—those too sick, injured, or weak to stand on their own. Sen. Feinstein also led a letter urging the USDA to strengthen significantly outdated animal care standards for captive marine mammals.
In addition to honoring these extraordinary legislators, The HSUS and HSLF recognized a broader, bipartisan group of outstanding lawmakers based on their leadership on animal protection issues and their ratings on the 2016 Humane Scorecard. In total, 200 legislators—51 in the Senate and 149 in the House (representing 39 states)—were honored for their work in 2016. The animal protection community is grateful to all of these Members of Congress who are helping to forge a path to a more humane future through their demonstrated leadership. Congratulations to the recipients of the 2016 Humane Awards.