The American Horse Council (AHC) will host the 2008 National Issues Forum June 16-18 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. This is an exciting opportunity to bring together industry leaders and participants to discuss important national equine issues.
The general session on Tuesday, June 17th, will feature sessions designed to educate horse organization leaders and individuals as to how they can be actively and effectively involved in the 2008 election process. Speakers include Jeff Glassie, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, on “What’s an Organization to do” – IRS/FEC Limits”; J. Scott Jennings, Senior Strategist at Peritus Public Relations discussing “Getting in on the Ground Floor – Opportunities Elections Provide”; Gregory M. Cohen, President and CEO of the American Highway Users Alliance, and Derrick Crandall, President of the American Recreation Coalition, addressing “Developing/Delivering the Message to Candidates”. In addition, Congressman Ben Chandler (D-KY) and Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL), co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus, have been invited to discuss the industry’s involvement in the elections.
In the afternoon, the AHC will provide an update on national issues affecting the horse industry and urges participants to make appointments to visit with their elected officials. Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday have been set aside for these Congressional visits.
For those interested in the issue of Unwanted Horses, a USDA/AHC Unwanted Horse Forum has been scheduled at USDA from 8 am – 4 pm on Wednesday, June 18th. There is no admission fee for this forum. To register, send your name, affiliation and email address to Marsha Stephens Hurd, 800 9th St., SW, Rm. 3150, Waterfront Center, Washington, DC, 20250-2220; telephone: 202-401-5352; fac: 202-401-6156; or email either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about the 2008 National Issues Forum, including registration forms, schedules and more, can be found at the AHC web site, www.horsecouncil.org or by calling the AHC offices at 202-296-4031.
Movement on Immigration Bills
Yesterday saw movement on two immigration bills that would provide temporary relief for the horse industry. One bill deals with H-2A agricultural visas and the other with H-2B non-agricultural visas. The horse industry relies on both programs. Both bills were added to the Fiscal Year 2008 Supplemental Appropriations bill when the Senate Appropriations Committee considered the bill.
Emergency Agriculture Relief Act
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) offered the Emergency Agriculture Relief Act (EARA) as an amendment to the bill and it was adopted by a vote of 17 to 12. EARA is a compromise bill intended to provide a temporary five-year solution for agriculture’s alien worker problems until Congress can revisit the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.
The EARA bill is basically the Senator Feinstein’s AgJOBS bill (S. 340). It would streamline the H-2A temporary and seasonal alien farm worker program and allow agriculture to stabilize its experienced workforce, some of whom may be undocumented. But EARA would not provide permanent legal status to undocumented workers now in the U.S. because it would “sunset” after five years.
If Congress did not enact AgJOBS or comparable reforms in the next five years, the H-2A reforms would lapse and any workers legalized during the five-year period would be deemed undocumented again. But passage of this legislation would provide the horse industry with some stability during this five year period.
Senator Feinstein noted that this compromise legislation is a recognition of the emergent situation facing agriculture and the need to ensure adequate legal labor to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables and tend livestock. It is also recognition of the difficulty of passing broad, comprehensive immigration reform in this Congress.
Save Our Small Business Act
During the same markup, Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) offered the Save Our Small Business Act to the Supplemental Bill. It also was adopted by the Committee.
The provision would ease the problems caused by the enforcement of the 66,000 cap on H-2B visas by exempting from the cap for the next three years any worker who has received a visa under the H-2B program in the three previous years. Many alien workers return to their previous employment each year and this provision would exempt these workers from the cap. The “returning worker” exemption expired on September 30, 2007. This change would reinstate it and extend it for three years.
The horse industry uses the H-2B program to bring semi-skilled workers into the U.S. for non-agricultural jobs. Many trainers, training facilities, horse shows and other service providers in the industry rely on these workers to fill jobs American won’t do.
Many Hurdles to Go
This is just the first step in a long and difficult legislative process before any of these changes would become law. But it is an indication that some in Congress remain committed to easing the difficulties facing many employers and many industries that rely on foreign workers.