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Interstate “anti-doping” compact bill under consideration in Maryland

by | Feb 27, 2018 | Breaking, Business, Maryland, MD Business, Top Stories

by Frank Vespe

Legislation that would enable Maryland to join a proposed “Interstate Compact on Anti-Doping and Drug Testing Standards” has been proposed in the state legislature, and proponents are optimistic about its chances of passing.

The proposed bill has been introduced in both houses of the General Assembly, and the House bill, HB 1177, cosponsored by Delegates Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery) and Frank Turner (D-Howard), is scheduled for a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee February 28.

The Maryland Racing Commission on February 22 unanimously endorsed the legislation. Commission executive director Mike Hopkins called it the “most significant” of several pending pieces of legislation that could affect Maryland racing.

The bill also has the support of several regional horsemen’s groups, including the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

The bill would authorize the state Racing Commission to join a proposed Compact Commission, which would form once two or more states agree to join it.

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The goal of the Compact, according to the fiscal and policy note prepared by the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services, is “to enable member states to act jointly and cooperatively to create more uniform, effective and efficient” rules and regulations regarding which drugs are permitted and prohibited in racing        .

The legislation specifically empowers the compact’s rules to be “breed-specific,” thus allowing different rules for standardbred racing — something important to standardbred horsemen.

“We’re trying to have uniformity in the region,” said Alan Foreman, the chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the umbrella group for state-level Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Associations. “From a standpoint of uniformity, we really haven’t done it all for the horsemen.”

Once the compact is formed, each member state will have one voting delegate. The Compact will be able – after following substantial public involvement rules not unlike a state commission – to adopt new medication rules by an 80 percent supermajority only. That means in essence that the compact will only act in cases with overwhelming support. Any rule it does adopt will, according to the legislation, “constitute a duly adopted and valid state rule.”

Once it does act, its rules therefore will supersede those of the member states and will take effect on the same date in every member state. Although every mid-Atlantic state has fully adopted the national uniform medication program, according to that program’s lead advocate, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the vagaries of political and administrative processes in the different states have meant that those rules have changed in a piecemeal process, often leaving horsemen stuck trying to navigate murky waters.

“Once that compact adopts a particular rule, it’s adopted in all the states at the same time,” Hopkins told the Commission.

“A joint implementation date is the beauty of this,” Foreman said in an interview.

Some commissioners expressed initial reservations at the Commission’s monthly meeting.

“I’m not sure this isn’t telling us we must conform, even though the Maryland Racing Commission is pretty progressive,” said Commissioner Tom Bowman, a breeder and veterinarian. The Commission has prided itself in recent years on taking a lead role on medication issues.

“Not every rule has to go through the Compact,” Foreman countered. “It doesn’t change Maryland taking a lead role on any issue.”

Foreman also pointed out that the Commission is already a member of the sport’s interstate licensing compact.

Once adopted, a Compact rule would apply to all states, and states would not be able to adopt stricter policies. But in areas where the Compact has not acted, or has declined to act – say, in the absence of a broad consensus, or when new science is emerging – an individual state could take whatever actions it deemed necessary. The Compact’s jurisdiction is limited to anti-doping and related matters; existing state law and regulations governing all other aspects of racing would be unaffected.

Of course, for the compact to be meaningful, several states will need to adopt it. “That process is taking place,” Foreman said, pointing to plans for identical bills to be introduced in several other nearby states.

The mid-Atlantic region is an obvious place for such an endeavor to start because it has the highest concentration of racetracks in the country, with a corresponding high rate of shipping from one track, and one state, to another. Horsemen here would benefit greatly from regionwide uniformity in implementation of rules.

Sufficiently widespread adoption would also undermine support for the already controversial “Horse Racing Integrity Act” introduced in the US Congress. That legislation, which would create a national anti-doping authority to oversee racing’s medication rules, includes a “sunset provision” which would close that authority if most racing states enter into a state compact.

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