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Oklahoma horse slaughter bill author denies financial motivation

Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, said she proposed House Bill 1999 to help the horse livestock economy and open up an outlet for people to dispose of their horses. Critics, however, call it a conflict of interest meant to boost finances at her grandparent's horse auction, the largest in the state.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: March 18, 2013

The author of a bill that would legalize horse slaughter in Oklahoma agreed it could mean monetary gain for the livestock auction house owned by her grandparents and managed by her family.

Rep. Skye McNiel said that gain would be shared equally by all the state's horse auctioneers and is not substantial compared to the financial gain to the state's horse owners who are seeking an avenue to dispose of animals that have lost their use.

The Bristow Republican, whose grandparents opened Mid America Stockyards in Bristow more than 40 years ago, said she proposed House Bill 1999 because she saw a problem firsthand and decided to help solve it.

“It's no different from an attorney running a tort reform bill or a pharmacist running a pharmacy bill,” McNiel, 34, said. “I'm from rural Oklahoma and I run rural legislation. I mean, who better to understand policy than somebody who lives it every day?”

Critics of the legislation complain that, among other things, the bill presents a conflict of interest for its author. An advocacy group called Wild Horse Observers Association filed a complaint last month with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for that reason.

Law has exemption

But a state law that prohibits legislators from introducing bills that would benefit their immediate family makes an exception for legislation that “could reasonably be foreseen to accrue to all other members of the profession.”

Though Mid America could see commissions on horses sold at its biweekly auctions double or even triple should the bill become law, so too would the 11 other businesses licensed by the state to auction horses.

Patience O'Dowd, founder of the Wild Horse Observers Association, said she believes McNiel, in introducing the legislation, blatantly violated the intent of the ethics law.

“If it's a good bill, then perhaps another legislator should bring it,” said O'Dowd, who lives in Placitas, N.M. “Usually you don't want to even have the appearance of having an issue. If they don't want to be squeaky clean, then maybe they shouldn't be in that office.”

Closures hurt prices

The last domestic horse slaughter house closed in 2007, a year after federal inspections of such facilities ended. The market since has moved to neighboring countries, Mexico and Canada.

More than 18,000 horses were shipped from Oklahoma to Mexico for slaughter last year, according to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

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