By Dan Ross
California state senator Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, have announced plans for a joint oversight hearing on horse racing safety. The duo also announced the introduction of new legislation to authorize the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) to promptly suspend racing if dangerous conditions exist.
The hearing “will include testimony from expert witnesses highlighting the steps the industry and regulators have already taken to improve safety as well as exploring areas where more needs to be done,” according to a press release from Dodd’s office. Dodd and Gray met with California Horse Racing Board head Chuck Winner weeks ago to discuss steps that could be taken to improve safety at Santa Anita.
“This common sense bill is one part of the solution, and Chairman Gray and I will be convening a hearing to determine whether there are additional steps the industry or the state should take to enhance safety,” said Sen. Dodd. “It’s clear that state regulators need the power to act swiftly and decisively when exigent safety concerns arise.”
When it comes to the joint oversight hearing, which is between the state senate and assembly, specifics are light.
In an email to TDN, a spokesman for Sen. Dodd wrote that the agenda is currently being developed for the possible speakers at the hearing, which “should include” regulators, veterinary experts and industry people. The hearing is expected to be scheduled sometime in the second week of May, he said.
According to the spokesman, Dodd has spoken with industry stakeholders as well as state regulators about other horse racing-related issues like safety. “And we’ll be working collaboratively to see what can be accomplished administratively as well as what items like emergency race delays might require legislative action,” the spokesman wrote.
“Broadly, the senator appreciates that the board and track are taking the issue seriously and have taken steps to demonstrate that. The hearing will help him determine if there are additional steps that should be taken,” the spokesman wrote. As to what those steps might include, “we won’t speculate or pre-suppose what steps should be taken. That’s the goal of the hearing,” the spokesman replied.
Senate Bill 469 would allow racing board directors to convene an emergency meeting to consider temporary track closure when a situation emerges requiring prompt action. The usual 10-day meeting notice would be waived, but the board would still be required to notice the emergency meeting to the media and public.
SB 469, which is scheduled for its first hearing Apr. 23, is also co-authored by Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, and assemblymember Ed Chau, D-Arcadia, whose districts include Santa Anita.
In an emailed statement to TDN, Asm. Chau wrote that “the actions taken by the CHRB and Santa Anita management are an important step in raising the standards for the industry, but further reforms may be necessary, so I am looking forward to the oversight hearing on what more needs to be done, and continuing my involvement in future Legislative efforts, as I have been with SB 469.”
When it comes to the racing calendar, the board has the authority to transfer race dates from one track to another track if it receives approval from both participating tracks. If the CHRB doesn’t receive approval from both tracks, then the board has the authority to unilaterally move race dates around, but only if it receives a race dates application which is subsequently posted for at least 10 days. If necessary, the board can hold an unscheduled board meeting at the end of those 10 days.