I hope everyone reading remembers the classic “I’m Just a Bill” from the folks at Schoolhouse Rock. (If not, check it out on youtube. Right now!) The tune was stuck in my head all day yesterday after Nicola and I attended a stakeholder meeting for the PAST (Prevent all Soring Tactics) Act.
First, a little context: The PAST Act is currently HR 1518 and S 1406, in the 113th Congress’ House and Senate, respectively. If (no–WHEN) it becomes a law it will amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA), which was originally passed in 1970 in order to end the practice of soring. Soring (think “to make a horse sore”) involves causing pain to exaggerate the leg motion of high-gaited horses, historically Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Bred Horses. Horses can be sored through chemical means, by applying caustic materials like kerosene or mustard oil, or mechanical means, by applying spiky objects between shoe pads and the horse’s hoof sole or over-tightening metal hoof bands. As you might imagine, having your legs chemically burned is incredibly abusive. And, although the HPA made it illegal for sored horses to participate in shows or be transported to and from events, the actual practice of soring is, unbelievably, not yet illegal and, perhaps more unbelievably, still a big problem. (For more info check out the AVMA GRD’s info page: https://www.avma.org/kb/resources/reference/animalwelfare/pages/soring-horses.aspx)
Enter the PAST Act, which specifically spells out the illegality of soring tactics and formalizes the enforcement process. It was introduced in the House in April of 2013 and in the Senate in July. And, here is where the “I’m just a bill” song starts because this bill has major support across a wide array of groups and legislators.
At the meeting yesterday were representatives from the AVMA (us! along with Assistant Director Dr. Whitney Morgan), the American Horse Coalition, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Also in attendance were folks from Representative Whitfield’s office (R-KY), Senator Ayotte’s office (R-NH), and Senator Warner’s office (D-VA). The bill currently also has 144 cosponsors in the House (co-sponsors are legislators who care enough about a bill to not only vote for it, but also put their name behind it beforehand).
Before the PAST Act can become a law there is a lot of work to be done, in addition to the work it took to get the bill written and to start building support for it. Yesterday’s meeting was about getting more legislators on board to cosponsor through meetings with staff and education events. What was really cool was seeing so many groups with diverse viewpoints able to come together and rally around an important issue like horse welfare.
In the coming weeks we’ll be talking to our Representatives and Senators about cosponsoring the PAST Act. But, you don’t have to be in Washington, DC to make a difference if you care about this bill. You can check a website like govtrack.us (enter HR 1518 or S 1406 into the search box) to see whether your Representative or Senators are cosponsors. If they’re not, give their offices a call!
The PAST Act is still just a bill, but maybe, relatively soon, it will have the word of law.