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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Did your Members of Congress make the grade? The 2018 congressional year in review for animals

The final 2018 Humane Scorecard is now online, and we invite you to check it out and see how your federal legislators stood on a range of key issues last year. Please also share this scorecard with family, friends, and fellow advocates and help spread the word!

Capitol
iStock Photo

To recap, the 115th Congress second session had its share of frustrating setbacks, but the FY18 omnibus appropriations deal signed into law in March and the farm bill enacted in December contained some spectacular wins for animal protection. Here’s a snapshot of major actions in 2018:

Farm bill
Some of our biggest victories in this massive, multi-year package were defensive plays:

  • Most importantly, we blocked a terrible amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that threatened to gut countless state and local laws on animal protection, food safety, and other agriculture-related concerns.
  • We also successfully countered amendments to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirement for annual U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at animal research laboratories and amendments to weaken Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

We secured three key pro-animal measures in the final package:

  • The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters and other entities arrange shelter for survivors with pets.
  • The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act clarifies that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including territories where cockfighting is still openly practiced.
  • The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act prohibits the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, preventing an appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthening our standing to end it worldwide.

Appropriations
The FY18 omnibus spending bill enacted in March contained many pro-animal items:

  • Equines: Renewed “defund” provision that effectively prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Restated prohibition on sending wild horses or burros to slaughter for human consumption.
  • Wildlife: Struck riders that would have eliminated ESA protections (and barred judicial review) for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Eliminated rider allowing extreme methods of hunting on National Park Service lands in Alaska.
  • Animal welfare enforcement: Following requests by 184 representatives and 38 senators, provided a $2 million increase for AWA enforcement, added $1.5 million to a student loan repayment program that helps veterinarians work in underserved areas, and sustained funding in other animal welfare accounts. Also criticized the USDA for thwarting access to AWA and Horse Protection Act inspection reports and directed the agency to comply with earlier requirements “that the online searchable database should allow analysis and comparison of data and include all inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents related to enforcement of animal welfare laws.”
  • Research and testing: Maintained funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop replacements for animal tests and increased funding by $36 million for a National Institutes of Health program that helps transition science to non-animal test methods. Encouraged NIH to expedite retirement of chimpanzees in research facilities and to expand the national chimpanzee sanctuary system. Maintained prohibition on USDA licensing of “random source” dealers, who are notorious for acquiring dogs and cats through fraudulent means (including pet theft), keeping them in inhumane conditions and selling them for research.
  • Wounded warriors: Doubled funding (a $5 million increase) for Department of Defense grants to nonprofits providing therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel suffering from physical injuries and emotional trauma, and boosted by $1 million a Veterans Affairs program providing equine therapy for veterans with mental health issues.

Some pro-animal FY19 budget provisions were enacted:

  • Provided a $105.4 million increase for the NIH program developing non-animal alternatives to animal tests.
  • Maintained $10 million for the Defense Department program that awards grants for therapy dogs, and increased by $500,000 the Veterans Affairs equine therapy program.

Other priorities in the FY19 budget await final resolution:

  • The horse slaughter defund provision is in the Senate bill but not the House bill.
  • Both the House and Senate bills include the prohibition on the slaughter of wild horses and burros for human consumption, but the House version also directs immediate initiation of a surgical sterilization program despite a lack of evidence that the method can be performed humanely or effectively.
  • The House bill contains terrible riders to undo ESA protections for gray wolves and block the reintroduction of grizzly bears in Washington State.

Additional victories

  • While the USDA budget isn’t finalized, the FY19 funding request letters (signed by a record 190 representatives and 38 senators) helped drive needed action: In May, the agency abandoned its proposal to outsource animal welfare oversight and give regulated industries (puppy mills, roadside zoos, research laboratories, etc.) the power to decide which facilities warrant federal inspections.
  • In September, the House passed a global resolution, H. Res. 401, urging all nations to prohibit and enforce laws to end the cruel dog and cat meat trade. (House resolutions don’t require Senate approval or presidential signature, so this measure is completed.)
  • The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was signed into law in October as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. Introduced after a French bulldog died when an attendant insisted on stowing him in an overhead bin during a long flight, the WOOFF Act prohibits storage of live animals in airplane overhead compartments and authorizes civil penalties.
  • Several measures saw action in one chamber during the 115th Congress, setting the stage for future success. They included the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act to prohibit sales of shark fins and the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act to prohibit acts of extreme cruelty in interstate or foreign commerce. The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 2651), which aims to end widespread doping of race horses, had a House hearing in June (with testimony by the Humane Society of the United States), and in September the House approved the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act (H.R. 6197) to crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

Setbacks
We did encounter some serious setbacks. Legislation to bring urgently needed changes to agriculture checkoff programs—so their funds are no longer misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms—failed in the Senate. A farm bill amendment to end the cruelty of horse “soring” was blocked from House floor consideration. Numerous animal protection bills, detailed in the 2018 Humane Scorecard, garnered hundreds of bipartisan co-sponsors but stalled because House and Senate leadership refused to call them up for a vote.

Looking ahead
The new Congress presents exciting opportunities to move reintroduced bills that are ripe for swift action. We hope to see significantly fewer anti-animal measures brought to the House floor, although we’ll likely need to respond to additional regulatory rollbacks against wildlife and other animals and to press for stronger agency enforcement and accountability. We’re eager to work on new priorities as well, such as disaster planning for animals at regulated facilities, as we face increasingly frequent and extreme weather events.

For all this and more, we’ll be counting on your continued help. You have been the key to our successes in 2018, and if you keep speaking out for the animals, we can accomplish even greater progress in the 116th Congress!

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