Congress Approves Omnibus Bill
Congress has passed an omnibus appropriations bill, which will fund the government through September 30, 2016, was passed by Congress. This bill is a package that includes all 12 of the FY 2016 appropriations bills, and will fund government agencies and programs until the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2016.
The omnibus bill contains several provisions that impact the horse industry, including reforms to the H-2B temporary guest worker program, the U.S. Department Agriculture (USDA) FY 2016 appropriations bill, defunding of horse slaughter, and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
H-2B Temporary Worker Program
The bill includes several beneficial provisions relating to the H-2B temporary, non-agricultural worker program and would roll back some of the most onerous provisions of a 2015 H-2B rule. The AHC has been working to ensure these provisions were included in the omnibus bill. These provisions will make the H-2B program less burdensome for employers, including those in the horse industry to use. The bill will do the following:
- Exempt H-2B returning workers from the 66,000 annual cap;
- Require wages to be based on the job category and experience level required, rather than an artificially inflated median wage;
- Clearly define seasonal as ten months, as opposed to the nine months in the 2015 H-2B rule;
- Prevent the Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing the provisions of the 2015 H-2B rule related to corresponding employment and the ¾ guarantee of work days; and
- Prevent DOL from implementing the new and burdensome DOL enforcement scheme in the 2015 H-2B rule related to audits and the Certifying Officer (CO) assisted recruitment.
These provisions will make the H-2B program easier to use and were supported by the AHC.
FY 2015 USDA Appropriations
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Equine Health
The bill appropriates $898 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS is the USDA agency responsible for protecting the U.S. equine industry and responding to contagious equine disease outbreaks. Funding for Equine, Cervid, and Small Rumiant health is set at $19.5 million, the same as FY 2015.
The bill includes language that prohibits USDA from using any funds to provide inspectors at meat processing facilities that slaughter horses, continuing a block that begin in 2005, except for a brief period in 2012 and 2013
No horse slaughter facilities are operating in the U.S. and this bill would effectively prevent any such facility from opening until September 30, 2016.
The language was included in the omnibus bill because the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment that prohibited funding for inspectors at horse slaughter facilities when they debated and approved their respective version of the FY 2016 USDA appropriations bill. The Senate amendment was offered in committee by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and passed by a voice vote.
Horse Protection Act
The bill provides $697,000 for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA), the same as FY 2015. The HPA was enacted in 1970 to prevent the soring of horses, primarily Tennessee Walking Horses.
Because soring continues to be a problem in the “big lick” segment of the Walking Horse industry, the AHC has been working to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act) (S.1121/ H.R.3268). The PAST act would strengthen the HPA and end this cruel practice.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund
The bill will also reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for three years with funding of $450 million for the coming FY 2016, a nearly 50 percent increase over the previous level.
The program, which expired on October 1, 2015, provides funds and matching grants to federal, state and local governments for the acquisition of land and water for recreation and the protection of natural resources. The LWCF program benefits recreational riders by providing increased recreational opportunities.
Wild Horses and Burros
The omnibus bill also includes a provision that would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from euthanizing healthy wild horses in its care or from selling wild horses or burros that results in their being processed into commercial products.
The bill is expected to be signed by the President shortly.