The Thoroughbred Times

Posted: 7/26/2006 3:21:49 PM

Horse slaughter bill discharged from House Energy and Commerce committee

A version of a bill that would permanently ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in foreign countries could be voted on by the full House of Representatives in early September after being discharged from the Energy and Commerce committee on Wednesday.

The bill may also prompt the House Rules committee to issue a ruling if a different version of H.R. 503 is amended following a hearing before the Agriculture committee on Thursday. The Rules committee could determine the length of time for debate, the amendments that will be considered, and any special rules for the bill that is sponsored by Representative John Sweeney (R-New York).

 "My boss is anticipating that the [Agriculture committee] will try and alter the bill drastically from its current form because they oppose the legislation," Melissa Carlson, Sweeney's deputy chief of staff, said. "The Energy and Commerce committee discharging it is obviously very much a victory in terms of keeping the bill intact and getting the bill to the floor that we want brought up. We also have that next hurdle of working to see that the Rules committee brings the Energy and Commerce version to the floor versus the Agriculture committee version."

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), the chairman of the Agriculture committee, opposes the bill because he believes shutting down three foreign-owned slaughter plants in the United States would have a negative economic impact and would lead to unwanted horses. The plants are located in Fort Worth and Kaufman, Texas, and DeKalb, Illinois, and slaughtered more than 90,000 horses last year, according to the National Horse Protection Coalition website.

 "The rules committee will determine what [Goodlatte] can and can't do," Representative Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky), a member of the Energy and Commerce committee who is one of 202 co-sponsors of the bill, said. "More than likely, the rules committee will allow him an opportunity to try to amend the bill. I anticipate that he would try to do that on the floor."

Goodlatte held up the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act for two years after it was first introduced by Sweeney in February, 2003, despite gaining 225 co-sponsors, more than the 218 needed to pass the 435-member House. Sweeney and Representative John Spratt (D-South Carolina) amended the 2003 bill and re-introduced it as H.R. 503 in 2005.

The bill was discharged on Wednesday from the Energy and Commerce committee by Representative Joe Burton (R-Texas), the committee chairman who opposes the legislation.

"There were times when I thought it would never even get to the House floor, so we're optimistic now," said Whitfield. "We feel like we have some momentum. We're just going to continue to work on it and hopefully be able to pass it the first week of September."

Whitfield noted that since the first bill relating to horse slaughter was introduced in 1976, only one hearing has been held on the issue. That hearing took place on Tuesday, when emotional testimony was presented to an Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, trade, and consumer protection.

"It has been a long time coming," Gail Vacca, the Illinois coordinator for the National Horse Protection Coalition, said. "This is the brass ring, I guess, to get our vote. I feel confident that we have the majority of Congress on our side and the bill will pass.

"Getting it moved out of committee is key. It always has been. So this is huge for us—absolutely huge."

Whitfield said, "It's unusual—but it does happen periodically" when asked about Barton's decision to discharge the bill rather than wait for a committee vote usually required to send legislation to a floor vote. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced on July 20 that a floor vote would be taken.

Whitfield said Barton's signature was all it took for the bill to be discharged.

"It's his prerogative as chairman to let it go," Whitfield said. "There was a lot of support for this bill in the committee and there are some people opposed to it. [Barton] knows that there is going to be a debate and a vote on the floor. Maybe he made the decision, 'Let's just do it there.'"

Opponents to the legislation also include the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association, which question what will happen to unwanted horses if the plants close.

"It's a huge development to get this bill on the floor," Whitfield said. "You had Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Ag committee, doing everything that he could do to stop it and chairman Barton has said that he really doesn't support the bill. So to get it to the floor over objections like that is pretty significant."

Whitfield is not ready to say the bill is ready to be passed by the House yet.

"I'm always a little more cautious than most people because you never know until you have the vote," Whitfield said. "I will say that three times we've been on the House floor on amendments relating to the issue. We've won all of them pretty overwhelmingly so I'm optimistic.

"But we have a lot of work to do and we're going to continue working on this issue until the vote."—Jeff Apel

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