U.S. House passes Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act on voice vote

By: Tom LaMarra

Update: Sept. 29, 2020

The United States House of Representatives Sept. 29 passed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 by a voice vote. The legislation now heads to the Senate, where a timetable for action is not currently known.

Posted: Sept. 9, 2020

The United States House Energy and Commerce Committee Sept. 9 voted 46-5 to move a substitute for the Horseracing Integrity Act to the floor of the full House of Representatives for consideration.

The committee took the action during a markup session for 38 bills. It was noted during the session that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, introduced the substitute—the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020—in the Senate on the same day. The bill was sent to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Senate Bill 4547 is designed to “improve the integrity and safety of horse racing by requiring uniform safety and performance standards, including a horseracing anti-doping and medication control program and a racetrack safety program to be developed and enforced by an independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, and for other purposes.” The legislation is available here.

Meanwhile, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Board of Directors Sept. 9 voted to support passage of the revised legislation.

“Today’s vote is a major step forward for our bipartisan drive to bring greater safety and integrity to the sport of horse racing,” said Democratic New York Congressman Paul Tonko, sponsor of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 (House Bill 1754). “Our bill delivers common-sense medication and track safety standards that protect America’s horses and jockeys, needed progress that will put this popular and historic sport on track for a strong recovery and a bright future. Horse racing is more than the sport of kings, it also supports countless jobs and drives vital economic activity in communities all across America.

“This not simply a sports impact. It is an economic impact.”

The bill has raised questions regarding funding for a national program and states’ rights, among other things, but Tonko noted a compromise, developed after a House subcommittee hearing on the HIA early this year, was instrumental in creation of the substitute bill. Various racing industry officials at the hearing noted that the original bill—pushed for years by The Jockey Club—failed to address many issues plaguing racing, including the health, safety and welfare of horses and jockeys, and racing surfaces.

The initial announcement of the revised bill is available here.

Among the five House members that voted against the bill is Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon with a background as a veterinarian. He said the substitute bill falls short because of a lack of veterinary representation on the proposed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority and language that would ban the use of race-day Lasix in all stakes and 2-year-old races but allow use of the therapeutic medication in all other races for a three-year period if states apply for an exemption.

Ultimately, the nine-member authority, after a “study,” would have to vote unanimously to reverse the ban. Schrader indicated he may file an amendment.

“Paul (Tonko), with all due respect, put the cart before the horse,” Schrader said, suggesting the best course is to allow use of race-day Lasix for treatment of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage for the three-year study period, and then decide on a course of action. “I’ll be glad to work with the sponsor of the bill to see if we can get something done here.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, voted to move the bill to the floor. In response to Schrader’s comments, he said: “As this moves forward to the (House) floor, we’re certainly going to keep working on this. I hope we can get bipartisan support.”

Much of the work accomplished regarding equine health, safety and welfare in Thoroughbred racing over the past 10 years has stemmed from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions through the National Uniform Medication Program and Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities. Both figure prominently in policies going forward under any federal legislation.

THA statement on Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act