Hickey: Good, Bad in Horse-Related Bills

Hickey: Good, Bad in Horse-Related Bills
Photo: Skip Dickstein
James Hickey

American Horse Council president James J. Hickey Jr. briefed attorneys May 1 on legislative actions in Congress during the 23rd National Conference on Equine Law, but he also handicapped the immediate passage chances of a couple of them as remote.

Hickey, whose group is a prominent lobbying arm for the horse industry in Washington, D.C., told an assembled group of attorneys and others at the Embassy Suites in Lexington that several important pieces have been dealt with in Congress, including those involving tax incentives, immigration, and Internet gambling regulation.

Joking that he hoped the reference didn’t date him, Hickey compared the imminent passage of a couple bills to having film actress Mimi Rogers calling him up for dinner: “Slim and none.”

Two such examples involve the Congressional hot-button topic of immigration: Bills most commonly known as the AgJobs bills and the STRIVE Act.

The AgJobs bill would in part help identify those agricultural workers currently without documentation, and would establish a “blue card” program that would give workers a temporary 5-year legal status while working for permanent residency.

The STRIVE Act would have in part initiated a new “H-2C” guest-worker program for non-agricultural workers, including those in the horse industry, which would provide a one-time renewable three-year visa.

Hickey said the AHC supports broad, comprehensive immigration reform that will streamline current requirements and provide a regulated way for the millions of alien workers in the U.S. to work their way to legal status.

“Our farms and our ranches, we use H-2A, and on the backstretch, we use H-2B,” he said, noting the current classifications for agricultural and non-agricultural workers. “The horse industry uses immigration to a great extent. We could not live without foreign workers. There are a lot of programs out there to train American citizens how to do it, but they are not helping out at this point.”

But Congress, Hickey said, is currently fearful of the “A-word,” or amnesty, for foreign workers, because of negative reaction of many constituents.

“They say, ‘I know that you guys are hurting, but I can’t vote for this legislation, because I am getting killed back home.’ The only answer to this problem is to contact your members of Congress.”

Hickey also touched on reaction to passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act, which prohibited certain types of transactions on on-line gaming, but exempted horse racing under guidelines from the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.

“After 11 years of fighting about it … you would have thought there would have been some sort of break on Internet gambling,” he said. “Since then, there have been six bills, and three hearings, and all sorts of gambling groups have been sued.

“Throughout the entire Internet process, the horse racing industry has been the whipping boy for both sides, because we had this exemption. The more poking around that people do, the more difficult it becomes.”

But Hickey applauded two equine-related tax provisions included in the recent Economic Stimulus Act signed by President George W. Bush. The first would increase the Section 179 expensing allowance for horses purchased to $280,000 from $128,000. The second resurrects the 50% first-year bonus depreciation for horses and most other depreciable property purchased and placed into service for 2008.

“These are two good provisions for the horse industry,” he said.

Hickey also said passage of the Equine Equity Act of 2007 would be good for the horse industry. The bill, whose sponsors include Republican Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, seeks the reduction of capital gains holding period on horses to 12 months from 24 months, and make racehorses depreciable after three years.

The current depreciation period depends on the age of the horse when it is “placed into service.” In the case of a yearling beginning under-tack training, the depreciation period is seven years.

“Very few racehorses race seven years,” Hickey said.

Other legislation being heard in Congress includes federal emergency disaster relief for horses, jockeys insurance, and anti-slaughter acts, among others.

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