By Lonny Powell
There is very good news—actually great news—emanating from Florida regarding industry efforts to adopt and implement what is commonly referred to as the National Uniform Medication Program.
On June 2 Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation enabling adoption and implementation of the reforms in the Sunshine State. The governor’s action followed unanimous passage of the reforms by both the Florida House of Representatives and Senate earlier this spring.
Once fully enacted, Florida will join a growing number of leading racing states that have adopted or are in the process of adopting and implementing the reforms. As is typical for legislation of this nature, the reforms provide a mandatory platform, framework, and principals from which Florida regulators must now promulgate rules.
Our work is far from over, but this week’s action, and the industry-wide effort and consensus that led to it, represent a huge step forward for Florida racing. The fundamental pillars of the legislation include:
—A Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule that includes a limited, but evolving, list of acceptable therapeutic substances that have a place and purpose in the treatment and welfare of the racing equine;
—A multiple medication point system and penalties for repeat and serious offenders, similar to a traffic points and the penalty system for careless drivers;
—Administration of only Salix on race day;
—Mandatory participation of the state designated equine drug-testing lab in the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and Association of Racing Commissioners International quality assurance programs.
Importantly, the bill mandates that regulators must have conforming rules in place by the end of 2015.
The reforms have been endorsed by virtually every major segment of the industry, including prominent breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians, racing fans, and advocates. Despite strong support from the Florida breeding and racing industry, passage of the reforms in Tallahassee was anything but a slam dunk.
Having been involved in past efforts to enact legislation in Arizona, California, Washington, Kentucky, Ohio, and elsewhere, I can attest firsthand that Florida offers a unique set of legislative and regulatory challenges for pari-mutuel racing that are unlike anywhere else. Foremost is the fact that the underlying racing regulatory platform in Florida can only be addressed via passage of legislation which, in an intensive “gaming expansion or not” political environment like Florida’s, is no easy task.
In 2013 an attempt to pass the reforms proved unsuccessful when our bill was tied to legislation calling for a controversial expansion of gaming and destination resort casinos. Despite our pleas and attempts to the contrary, the combination of these unrelated issues in a single toxic and amendment-burdened bill left little chance of passage.
The racing industry’s challenges in Tallahassee are further complicated by the fact that there is no racing commission in Florida. Pari-mutuel racing is overseen by a regulatory division of state employees who feel neither empowered or inclined to lobby on behalf of issues vitally important to the horseracing industry.
The regulatory and political environment, coupled with the usual industry politics and divisiveness revolving around medication issues, provided a complex and difficult backdrop in which to pass a piece of legislation that is vital to the integrity of Florida horse racing.
With lessons learned from our failed attempt in 2013, the industry entered this year’s legislative session again with a united front. Our legislative and lobbying strategy was based on three primary issues:
First, for the legislation to have any real chance of succeeding, it needed to stand alone and not be tied to other gaming bills or laden with controversial or divisive amendments that would hasten the likelihood of defeat.
Second, it also was determined that the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association would take the lead in lobbying for the bill’s passage, and that breeders would be “the face” for the legislation in Tallahassee, where the Florida breeding industry has a strong legislative presence and deep agricultural roots in our nation’s biggest agriculture state. Indeed, the economic impact of the equine industry in Florida is estimated at $5.1 billion, including $2.62 billion in the breeding, sales, and 2 year-old conditioning in Ocala and Marion County alone.
Finally, despite the unwavering and important support of many national organizations and individuals, it was clear that this legislation ultimately would pass or fail based on the efforts of Floridians who are dependent on a healthy and vibrant Florida breeding and racing industry. Nowhere is the phrase “all politics are local” more in play than in the state of Florida and our capital of Tallahassee.
Unwavering support from the Florida HBPA, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, as well as cooperation from the Quarter Horse industry and others, led to widespread and important political momentum. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam embraced our cause and made it his own by actively advocating and supporting it above and beyond what one might expect from a Cabinet member.
House sponsors Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen and Charlie Stone, and Senate sponsor Jack Latvala, skillfully guided the legislation through various committees and to unanimous committee and floor votes. The entire Ocala and Marion County legislative delegation also played a strong strategic role as well. Of course, our governor also did his job in signing the legislation.
Though we are near the wire, we must continue to invest time and energy in making sure our regulators get it right. The devil is in the details, but the foundation is now in place for Florida to modernize its rules and penalties on an ongoing basis.
Florida, once viewed by some as an outlier and used as an example of why national adoption of uniform rules and penalties can never be fully enacted, is on a course to conduct racing in accordance with the National Uniform Medication Program beginning in January 2016. The message to other racing states lagging behind in the adoption of the reforms should be clear: If Florida can do it, any state can.
It may not always be easy, but it can be done and is certainly worth doing what it takes to make it happen.
Lonny Powell is chief executive officer of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association