Sunday, February 22, 2009

Understanding Legislation and Compromise

Recently we released a great guide to legislation to help folks better understand how the legislative process works. I highly suggest that if you haven't read it yet that you download it and read it as you can. There are just so many bills, both on the state and federal level, pending that affect horses and knowing the process can only help with their protections. At the state level in some areas; Arizona, Utah, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois and others; there are bills pending that would legalize horse slaughter which could impact the pending federal bills.

As some may have noticed there has been some controversy over HR 1018, the bill introduced to protect the wild horses. I think that it is only fair to myself and the Congressmen who introduced the legislation that I make a few things clear.

One of the things that everyone should understand is that anyone, including the President, me or you, can write legislation but only Representatives and Senators can introduce legislation. So, generally they like to write their own as it has their name on it and they are responsible for it. They often will seek out the advice and suggestions of those within the industry that will be affected by the new law to help them, but in the end it is their own conscience that drives the wording of the bill. No matter how explicit the suggestions, the words are theirs and theirs alone as they are the elected official and they are the one(s) who are ultimately responsible for whatever happens under their law, good or bad. Remember, the Burns Amendment?

While Senators and Representative consult with groups and individuals, they almost never consult with just one group or individual. When they get conflicting suggestions they will usually give more weight to the larger group or the more influential individual as that group or person is seem to be able to deliver more votes in support to their pending bill. It is very seldom that every group or individual involved is happy with the final wording of the bill, but it is always hoped that the bill is as fair as possible.

When we are talking about horse slaughter it is simply amazing that we have been able to get legislation introduced every Congressional session as those who support slaughter are usually better funded and more influential. I think that we have had so much success because we are talking about humane issues and it is hard to look at the facts and say that slaughter is a good thing, no matter who supports it. However, because they are so well funded and supported by influential folks we have had a hard time getting the bills to actually go through. This is why the various groups have banded together, it will take all of us to pass this legislation as individually none of us could accomplish it alone. For this cooperation to work all of us have had to compromise and work with one another and put aside personal feelings and checked egos at the door. Not everyone has done a great job of that, but I think all of us have done a decent enough job of it.

On the wild horse bill some of the groups disagree on how to accomplish the end result of protecting the horses. There are so many ideas out there that I can't even begin to name them all here. However, at their core they all do agree that the horses and burros should be protected and they should remain on the range. The proposed bill put wording into the bill to reflect some of these various ideas. Do I agree with EVERYTHING in the bill? Not on your life and there are some that I would never advocate in a million years. One in particular, I hate the idea of completely, but it was added by a larger group that is seen to be able to deliver more votes than my group can. So, regardless of how I feel, it is in the bill. However, some ideas I had are also in the bill. and that group may or may not agree with those, so it is probably as fair as it can get.

While we are talking about what is in a bill we also need to talk about "perfection". It is nearly impossible to achieve perfection in any arena, but in legislation it is beyond impossible. There are too many people to please. First, it has to be a bill that has a chance to pass, so it has to please other Representatives, Senators and the President as these are the steps to passage into law. Second, it has to please those within the industry it affects. If not all, then nearly all, industries have opponents and proponents of some aspect. Looking again at slaughter, it is well known that certain large breed registries support slaughter, as well as those who oppose it. And even within the ranks of those who oppose it there are disagreements on certain aspects. Then you have the general public who weigh in on the issue whether it impacts them directly or not. You can see that it would be impossible to please them all, even if you were only attempting to please those on one side or another. There are compromises made. Not all are good like those made in the dark of night or made for personal or political gain. However, they are necessary if one wants to accomplish anything at all.

Should you support a bill just because it does something, even if it isn't everything you want? Well, that is up to the individual. People tend to affiliate themselves with certain political parties, but it is VERY rare for them to agree with everything that party stands for. You have to make up your mind which one most accurately reflects your personal beliefs. The same is true for a bill. Does it reflect enough of what you think for you to support it? That is not to say that you shouldn't try to make changes that you feel strongly about. You should if it is a political party or a bill. However, one shouldn't attack those one your side. They aren't the enemy, they are trying their best to reflect what they perceive is the majority opinion. So, asking for changes within a party or bill should be requested politely and with due respect. (Of course in politics since you never know whose support you may need one day you should always be polite and respectful, even if they oppose what you are talking to them about on any given day.)

With respect to the wild horse bill last session we asked for 2 things, that the Burns Amendment be repealed and that mass euthanasia of healthy horses in holding facilities be prohibited. A bill was introduced to do that, but even though it passed the House it was never heard in the Senate. This session we have a far more comprehensive bill that addresses many more of the issues that advocates have wanted for years. Now is the time to ask yourself does it more accurately reflect your opinions than not? Another thing to think about is that since we are so poorly funded it is difficult to find lawmakers to introduce legislation and if one doesn't support the bill it very well could take 4 years to get another bill introduced and then it wouldn't be introduced by Congressmen who are seen to be "experts" because of the committees they sit on. (Please read the Legislative Guide to understand the way this term is interpreted in Congress and why the sponsors of HR 1018 are the only proper ones to introduce legislation on this issue.)

Compromise isn't fun and often it isn't pretty, but it usually allows us to accomplish, at least partially, what we want. Can you accept the compromises in the bill? Only you know the answer to that, but in all honesty I hope that you can because I think it is the right bill and the only chance the horses have at this time. Does it need comment or "fixing"? Again, the answer is as unique as each of us. If you feel that there are things that need addressing you should follow your conscience, but remember to act appropriately when doing so. I have at least one issue that I would like to see corrected within the bill and I will be opening dialog with the committee and the sponsors to see how and if we can best do that. But at the end of the day I had to decide my position on the bill and based on several issues, not the least of which is that many folks agree that if something isn't done in the next few years the horse and burro populations will be irreparable making delaying the bill until I can get a "perfect" bill unacceptable, I support the bill and will fight my hardest to see it passed, even without the changes.


MuleKist / ErthMa said...

Thank you so much for that very imformative, enlightning and very well written article. As I was reading through I couldnt help thinking that,...just about everything you said regarding the wild horse bill, the process,the complexities & difficulties involved, ..the consideration and the pleasing of parties (interested, disinterested & affected) and not too mention the essence of time, the doubt and second-guessing, and all the rest...everything you said could be applied nearly word-for-word to the Economic Stimulus Act!
You made plain sense of the scheme of complicated interworkings and things and broke it all down to an understandable (laypersons) level for me. Thank you and thank you agaain! You make it sound so simple, so logical, and, it is!
You should be in Congress!!
There would be a good start for us!lol

Anonymous said...

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AHDF President said...

Thank you for thinking I should run for office. I am flattered. I once considered running for office, which explains my interest in politics. However, I keep saying I am just too honest and wouldn't win. :-)