Congress Passes Bills With Horse Industry Implications

Congress Passes Bills With Horse Industry Implications

Photo: iStock

The 114th Congress, though it started with the partisan gridlock that has become the new normal in Washington, ended the year with a burst of productivity by passing several major pieces of legislation including a tax extender bill, an omnibus appropriations bill, and a five-year highway bill. Each of these bills includes provisions favorable to the horse industry that were priorities for the American Horse Council.

“The AHC works on a diverse set of issues that impact the horse industry, often over the course of several years,” said AHC President Jay Hickey. “For this reason it’s not every day that we see several AHC priorities pass Congress in the span of a month. These three bills included tax provisions, guest worker reforms, and trail programs that will benefit the racing, showing, and recreational segments of the industry.”

The tax extender bill, the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015,” reinstates three-year-depreciation for all racehorses for two more years. It also increases the Section 179 business expense deduction back to $500,000 and makes this provision permanent. The bill restores bonus depreciation for qualifying new property, including assets used in the horse business such as horses and other equipment, purchased and placed in service during 2015 through 2019. The bill also restores and makes permanent favorable tax treatment for land donated for conservation purposes, particularly land donated by farmers and ranchers, like horse owners and breeders.

“These provisions benefit racing and everyone who is in the horse business,” Hickey said. “Importantly, horse businesses, breeders, and farms can now make long term plans to take advantage of these tax provisions instead of just hoping Congress will extend them for one year, as has been the case recently.”

The omnibus appropriations bill, which will fund the government until Sept. 30, also includes important H-2B temporary worker changes. The bill rolls back parts of a new H-2B rule and will make it easier for horse industry employers to use the program when no American workers can be found.

“Horse industry employers, mainly horse trainers and owners who cannot find American workers to fill semi-skilled jobs at racetracks and horse shows, often have to turn to this program for workers,” explained AHC vice president of government affairs Ben Pendergrass. “They do this because they have no choice and this program has gotten progressively more expensive and harder to use. Most H-2B workers in the industry are directly responsible for the care of the horses upon which the entire horse industry is dependent and without them thousands of American horse industry jobs could be lost.

“We have been working on fixing the shortcomings of the H-2B program for years, both through the regulatory process, standalone legislation, and the appropriations process with a coalition of other users of the program. There is still work that needs to be done, but this bill will improve the program.”

The AHC said the end-of-the-year legislative action also resulted in the reauthorization of two programs important to recreational riders: the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The multiyear national highway bill recently signed by the president, the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” or FAST Act, reauthorizes RTP for the next five years and provides $85 million annually for the program. The RTP provides funding directly to the states for recreational trails and trail-related facilities for all recreational trail users and has greatly benefited equestrians.

The omnibus appropriations bill reauthorizes the LWCF for three years with funding of $450 million for fiscal year 2016. The program, which expired on Oct. 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 and helps provide equestrians with increased recreational trail riding opportunities.

“We are very pleased RTP was included in the FAST Act,” Pendergrass said. “Every time a multiyear national highway bill is debated there is always an attempt to eliminate this program and this time was no different. The AHC has advocated for the RTP program since its inception and grassroots support from recreational trail users, including many equestrians, played an important role in making sure RTP was included in bill.”

Hickey added, “This has been a productive legislative session for the AHC and horse industry," noting that the AHC has also worked to advance several other bills.

"The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (S 1121/ HR 3268) that would end the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses was reintroduced and currently has 232 cosponsors in the House and 48 in the Senate," he said. "Additionally, the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (HR 845/S 1110) that would help improve trails on National Forests has been gaining momentum and has been called ‘the most bi-partisan bill in Congress.’ We will be working on these bills and other issues that impact the entire horse industry in 2016.”

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