This post was created by a member of the Dodo Community.
Few animal issues have captured the national passion like the
plight of America's wild and domestic horses. Over the last decade, equine welfare and the documentation of how our horses are being sent to slaughter to feed overseas diners, has consumed public interest and political intrigue. Most Americans have always opposed horse slaughter, and the American diet has never included horse-meat. We view horses as our pets and don't want to eat our pets. We have approximately 15 million animal advocates, so why is horse slaughter still legal in our country?
DC's top animal lobbyist Chris Heyde, (of "Animal Welfare Institute" https://awionline.org/ ), is the main lobbyist that's transitioning public support for the horse to a policy that will prevent their slaughter. Thankfully,S. 1214 and H.R. 1942, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act were introduced in the US House and Senate in 2015 to ban the slaughter of America's horses while also ensuring they aren't sent abroad for the same purpose. A bill lasts for an entire Congress, which is two years. The current Congress ends in December 2016. Chris Heyde has been leading the campaign to end slaughter since he took the issue to Congress in 2001 and introduced the first bill to ban slaughter in 2002.
The most successful way to help animals is to lobby laws; it is our only leverage. Very few petitions work. Worse, they can end up hurting animal laws because people don't become active in the legislation part, which is the only effective way the public can help shape policy. If people really want to help animals, they must learn how Congress (or The State Assembly) works. The path a bill takes through Congress isn't as simple or easy as shown in the classic School House Rocks video, " Just a Bill" or what many of us learn in high school civics class. Moving a bill through Congress is complex and takes a great deal of planning and work. Here is the basic path a bill takes through Congress:
- Sponsor - picking the right sponsor is critical and varies depending on many variables such as the makeup of Congress, committee assignments, seniority, and region of the country. At times, identical or companion bills are introduced in the House and Senate, but that isn't required.
- Introduction - once a sponsor has the bill ready to introduce they look for original cosponsors. It is important to try and have strong bipartisan support for the bill if it is to have a chance. A bill with all Democrats won't have much of a chance in a Republican majority Congress.
- Co-sponsors - one of the most time consuming and yet important steps is building a strong list of co-sponsors for a bill. The most effective way for activists to help with this is send handwritten letters, direct emails or by making calls to their own elected official. Attending town hall meetings in your own Congressional district is key. This is a constituent's chance to meet their elected official. Contacting legislators from other states makes almost no impact while mass online petitions rarely get noticed. Legislators want to focus on their own constituents.
- Hearings - there are two types of hearings: The first hearing a bill gets will be to discuss the bill itself with a panel of outside experts for and against the bill. The second hearing is called a "markup" and that is when the bill is voted on in Committee.
- Votes - any bill must pass both the House and Senate. Bills rarely even get votes without a large number of co-sponsors. In the House, you need 218 votes to win and in the Senate you need a simple majority of 51. If the bill is not filibustered (blocked), it will pass and then be signed into law. To stop a filibuster, 60 votes are needed to pass the bill. Each Congress last two years and is divided into two sessions. If the bill isn't voted on within that two year period, it dies and the process will need to start all over again in the next Congress.
- Signed into Law – once the bill has passed by chambers of Congress it is sent to the President to be signed into law. If the President vetoes the bill it is sent back to Congress where they will need to approve it again but with 290 votes in the House and 67 in the Senate to override the veto.
We had a victory passing the annual FY2016 Omnibus Spending Bill which did not include funding for USDA inspection on horse slaughter plants. http://awionline.org/content/awi-commends-animal-protection-measures-fy2016-omnibus-spending-bill But we still need to make horse slaughter illegal.
Start today by contacting your representative by letter writing or calling. Go to your local town hall meetings, and develop a rapport with your local, state and federal representatives. It is your constitutional right to tell all of the representatives that as a taxpayer, you don't want your taxes spent on horse slaughter. Tell them to pass this anti-horse slaughter bill, the SAFE ACT. Here's an index to find your legislators: