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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Building on the momentum of 2007 in Congress

The U.S. House of Representatives will come back from winter recess next week, and the U.S. Senate the week after, to begin the second session of the 110th Congress.  It’s time to look ahead at the fight for animal protection in Congress in 2008, but also look back at what we accomplished in 2007.

In the first year of the new Democratic majority, we passed several bills and other provisions to protect animals. But an important barometer of our success is also the growing level of support for animal protection legislation.  It’s safe to say that more federal lawmakers authored or co-sponsored animal protection bills in 2007 than any other year in history.  There were at least 27 separate House measures to protect animals—23 bills, two resolutions, and two sign-on letters—with a combined total of 1,829 co-sponsors.  The Senate had at least 17 such efforts—14 bills, one resolution, and two letters—with 249 co-sponsors.

The dozens of federal bills introduced last year dealt with subjects as diverse as pet food safety, polar bear trophy hunting, and primates as pets.  The two resolutions, both passed in the House, were introduced to create a National Pet Week and call on Canada to stop its annual massacre of hundreds of thousands of baby harp seals. The sign-on letters circulated by lawmakers requested increased funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws (House letter | Senate letter) and urged Japan to halt the hunting of endangered whales (House letter | Senate letter).

Legislation to upgrade the federal penalties for animal fighting attracted the most support in both chambers, with 70 percent of the House (304 out of 435) and nearly half the Senate (45 out of 100) co-sponsoring the legislation.  Other measures to stop horse slaughter, require accurate labeling of fur-trimmed garments and ban the sale of raccoon dog fur, and request funding for animal welfare enforcement each attracted the names of more than one-third of House members.  More than one-third of the Senate also signed onto the horse slaughter bill and funding letter.

It’s an important marker for our cause that four-fifths of House members and two-thirds of Senators publicly associated themselves with at least one animal protection issue.  In the House, 354 lawmakers—211 Democrats and 143 Republicans—co-sponsored at least one animal protection measure.  Only 88 House members—28 Democrats and 60 Republicans—did not put their name on a single animal welfare reform.  In the Senate, 68 lawmakers—43 Democrats, 23 Republicans, and two Independents—co-sponsored at least one item.  Only 33 senators—six Democrats and 27 Republicans—did nothing.

Quite a few members, in fact, signed onto nearly every animal protection effort in 2007.  In the House, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.) took the lead by co-sponsoring 22 bills each.  Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) was a close second for co-sponsoring 21 bills, and Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) co-sponsored 18 bills each.  In the Senate, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) led the pack by co-sponsoring ten bills each.  Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) co-sponsored nine items each, while Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) each co-sponsored eight.  Check to see how your own Representative (Co-sponsors | Non-co-sponsors) and Senators (Co-sponsors | Non-co-sponsors) did.

This increasing level of support makes it more clear than ever that animal protection is being taken seriously as a public policy issue.  We built our record and grew our ranks in a major way in 2007.  Now, it’s time to push these reforms for animals over the finish line in 2008.  Contact your federal lawmakers and thank them for supporting animal protection bills—and urge them to forge ahead for animals in the New Year. 

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