Proposed new bill would repeal, replace HISA
Saying “I love horses,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) announced Sept. 26 that he would introduce new legislation to repeal and replace the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), which Congress approved in 2020. HISA brought a more uniform regulatory approach to many racing issues, but it has come in for criticism from many in the industry and continues to be embroiled in lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.
The new legislation, to be called the Racehorse Health and Safety Act of 2023, will repeal HISA and instead spur the states to enter into an interstate compact – an agreement among states – whose members will then create the Racehorse Health and Safety Organization (RHSO) whose purpose would be “to coordinate the decision making and actions of the State racing commission of each member State,” according to a draft of the bill.
The RHSO will in many ways be similar to HISA’s regulatory body, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. The RHSO will be tasked with making and enforcing anti-doping and medication rules, as well as developing and implementing “racetrack safety” rules.
It will differ from HISA, however, in two important ways.
The first is in the composition of its board of directors. While HISA is governed by an independent and self-perpetuating board of directors not directly accountable to anyone in racing, the RHSO’s board will be comprised of members appointed by the state racing commissions that are participants in the compact.
The second is that the RHSO will cover not only Thoroughbred racing but also quarter horse and standardbred racing – the full panoply of horse racing with parimutuel wagering. HISA applies only to Thoroughbreds.
States will not be required to participate in the RHSO, but those that decline to do so will be unable to export their signals for simulcast purposes. That is similar to how HISA operates.
“Government should be a partner to Americans, not a predator,” Higgins said in a release. “This legislation brings Constitutional liberties and rights to the forefront, protecting the horse racing industry and the beautiful animals that we love.”
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Higgins’ home state of Louisiana has been among several plaintiffs seeking to overturn HISA. The state’s Attorney General, Jeff Landry (R), applauded the pending introduction of the new legislation.
“Lo and behold, despite all the grandstanding and potentially good intentions of those who lobbied for HISA, its implementation has been an absolute failure by every metric,” Landry said. “In pushing a one-size-fits-all program that effectively grants control of an entire industry to a handful of elites within a private entity, the federal government’s plan has collapsed from underneath it — at the expense of the American racehorse and those who work the hardest within this industry. That is why it is time to repeal and replace HISA with something designed by horsemen for horsemen.”
Of the country’s two major horsemen’s groups, the older and larger, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), has been a confirmed foe of HISA, fighting it in Congress and then in the courts. The other, the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Associations, has taken a more conciliatory approach.
“The RHSA is a law that works from the ground up and brings all horseracing industry entities to the table in a collaborative, consensus-driven approach,” said HBPA president Doug Daniels, a veterinarian. “It’s a sensible piece of legislation that will cost horsemen much less than HISA because it will utilize resources already existing in the states. And it will be constitutional and democratic, allowing everyone in the industry to have a voice in the rulemaking process.”
An effort to promote racing regulation via interstate compact launched several years ago fizzled out despite support from some in the industry. A contemporaneous survey by the Association of Racing Commissioners International found “widespread support for the creation of a centralized rule making entity accountable to the existing racing commissions reorganized into a multi-jurisdictional entity (interstate compact),” the ARCI said.