Congress held its first hearing Thursday on H.R. 2012, a proposed bill that would impose federal regulations on horse racing medication rules and put an independent agency in charge of drug testing, and while there was a similarity in testimony to past hearings on previous racing legislation, one critical difference was that House members seemed to be paying attention this time.
The 70-minute hearing – conducted by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade – was squeezed in between floor votes on what subcommittee chairman Lee Terry (R-Neb.) called “getaway day” – was well attended, with up to a dozen members listening to testimony. A previous hearing in 2012 on now-expired legislation was sparsely attended. (Background memo on H.R. 2012.)
Many of the messages conveyed by witnesses speaking on behalf of H.R. 2012 Thursday were familiar to those heard in the past:
— Horseracing is a wonderful sport with a glorious history.
— Horseracing currently is plagued by cheaters who dope horses to gain an advantage.
— The current state-by-state regulatory structure is ineffective in establishing uniform rules and catching the cheaters.
— Federal legislation is needed to create uniform rules, guidelines, and penalties to regulate the use of medication in Thoroughbred racing.
Speaking on behalf of the bill was an assortment of individuals: businessman Jesse Overton, former chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission, who told Congress there is “no drug or compound that has not been tried in horses”; Dr. Lawrence Soma, of the University of Pennsylvania testing laboratory, who talked about the difficulties of identifying protein-based drugs and peptides and the shortage of revenue to develop new tests; Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who spoke about how the international Olympic movement came together during a crisis in cheating by many athletes to create the World Anti-Doping Agency; veterinarian Sheila Lyons, who repeated some of her critical comments from a 2012 hearing about veterinary ethics; and Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, who said the HSUS wants horse racing to succeed but said it needs to move away from the “reckless” use of drugs and self-regulation.
Phil Hanrahan, CEO of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, was the lone opponent of the bill among those invited to testify. He insisted horse racing is a clean sport, evidenced by the amount of testing conducted throughout the United States and the relativity few positive tests that are found.
“It attempts to address a problem that does not exist,” Hanrahan said of H.R. 2012.
In opening statements, chairman Terry talked about having previously worked at long-shuttered Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha, Neb. “Even when I was finished working there, I just couldn't get away from it,” he said. “I loved standing on the rail of the stretch, and as they come around that corner, you just feel the ground shaking from their power.”
Today, Terry said, “The perception is that the doping or drug use for the horses is pervasive.”
Other members echoed Terry's remarks.
“Doping in the Thoroughbred industry is a concern for every industry stakeholder,” said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ).
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), co-sponsor of H.R. 2012, is not a member of the subcommittee but was given an exemption to participate. He played a New York Times video focusing on the number of horses that suffer fatal injuries during racing and said the lack of a “single entity” to impose and enforce rules was something the sport needs to change.
But not all members indicated support. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla), whose district includeds Tampa Bay Downs, said 50 racetracks are in support of reformed medication rules that would create uniformity without the need of federal legislation. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) also spoke against the bill.
GovTrack.us gives H.R. 2012 a 26 percent chance of getting past committee and a 19 percent chance of being enacted.
Jesse Overton, Chairman, SkyLearn, LLC and former Chairman, Minnesota Racing Commission; written testimony
Phil Hanrahan, Chief Executive Officer, National Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association; written testimony
Lawrence Soma, VMD, Professor Emeritus of Anesthesia and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine; written testimony
Travis Tygart, Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency; written testimony
Sheila Lyons, DVM; written testimony
Wayne Pacelle, Chief Executive Officer and President, Humane Society of the United States; written testimony
Following the hearing, Rep. Pitts issued the following press release:
This morning, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade held a hearing to look at Congressman Joe Pitts' (PA-16) bill H.R. 2012, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. H.R. 2012 would empower the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to set rules for monitoring drug use in horse races that are simulcast under federal law. The bill would require no federal funding.
“Despite promises and assurances, state and industry groups have been unable to come together to develop uniform rules to police doping,” said Pitts. “The fact remains that there is no single entity which has the authority to impose uniform rules on racing commissions, tracks, trainers, and owners. Congress must step in to offer a sound national framework to protect the horses, the riders and the public.”
USADA is a non-governmental organization that is designated as the official anti-doping agency for the U.S. Olympics and works with sports leagues to strengthen clean competition policies.
Under the new legislation, USADA would develop rules for permitted and prohibited substances and create anti-doping education, research, testing and adjudication programs for horseracing. It would also:
· Put an end to race day medication;
· Set a harmonized medication policy framework for all races with interstate simulcast wagering;
· Require stiff penalties for cheating, including “one and done” and “three strikes, you're out” lifetime bans for the worst cases; and
· Ensure racehorse drug administrations comply with veterinary ethics.
“A subcommittee hearing is the first step in serious consideration of legislation,” said Pitts. “We have to continue building the case for the bill, but there is bipartisan recognition that this is a serious problem and industry support for the solution I have proposed.”
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