By T. D. Thornton
Several hours after the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) got introduced in the United States Senate on Wednesday, the co-sponsor of the existing Horseracing Integrity Act (HRIA) proposed striking all of the language of his existing bill and replacing it with the exact wording from the new Senate bill to create companion legislation that now reads the same in both branches of Congress.
In a video conference mark-up session of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, this newly amended version of the federal bill was then reported to the full House of Representatives by a 46-5 vote.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), who has co-sponsored three different versions of the Integrity Act since 2015 (including the current version) said that the chief differences between his original bill and the one that will now mirror the HISA backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are the inclusion of racetrack safety standards and a 3-year phase-out period for race-day Lasix usage instead of prohibiting it outright.
“While no legislation is usually deemed perfect, the agreement represented in [the amended version] has the support of the overwhelming majority of not only the horse racing industry…but also major animal welfare groups,” Tonko said.
But House members who spoke out against and voted against advancing the amended version of HB 1754 cited concerns over a lack of veterinary oversight on the new authority panel that would be created by the legislation. And several others chafed at the provision that race-day Lasix would be phased out over the objections of some horse owners and trainers.
“The intent of this legislation, to achieve uniform standards across the country, I think we all agree is a great one. We need this expertise and this help,” said Rep. Kurt Shrader (D-OR), a veterinarian. “But we can't do it without the veterinary or medical advice being at the table on an ongoing basis. So while well-intended, this bill falls way short of its goals…. I don't think the bill is right for prime time at this point.”
Tonko rebutted that to achieve the new compromise legislation, “significant concessions” have already been made, particularly with regard to allowing Lasix to be phased out instead of banned immediately. He added that not advancing the compromise version of the legislation “would undermine public confidence in the sport.”
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), who chairs the committee, urged fellow lawmakers just before the vote to consider that the compromise version of the HISA is the result of years of work that represents a “solution that could actually become law this session.” He also reminded dissenters that they would still have opportunities to tweak the final version when it comes up for debate in front of the full House.
“The beauty part of [achieving Congressional consensus] is this could pass the House, and then pass the Senate and be signed into law,” Pallone said. “So that's why I do want to move it today, because of the work that Paul [Tonko] and Mitch McConnell did together on this…. But I do want [Congresspeople who spoke against the bill] to know that as we move forward to the floor, we're certainly going to keep working on this.”