11/21/2013 3:47PM

Federal oversight bill in reruns


A Congressional subcommittee hearing called to discuss a bill that would grant a federally designated agency the power to enforce racing’s drug rules did not produce a clear indication of whether the bill would find support in a legislature that is split philosophically on the role the government should play in regulation.

The hearing, which lasted 75 minutes, featured testimony from six witnesses, including Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which would almost certainly be appointed the sport’s drug czar if the legislation passed. Tygart, whose non-profit agency currently receives funding from the federal government to conduct drug testing of U.S. Olympic athletes, was one of four of the six witnesses who clearly indicated they supported the legislation.

The legislation is the third to be introduced in the past two years by federal legislators who have been critical of the sport’s medication policies. The previous bills, which were variations on the theme of allowing the federal government a role in directing racing’s medication policies, have never advanced beyond the committee level.

The current legislation differs from the previous bills by designating an “independent anti-doping organization” to devise and enforce medication policies in the 38 U.S. racing jurisdictions, whereas the earlier bills assigned those duties to a federal agency. Funding for the organization would be provided by racetracks, which would need to sign agreements with the organization before they could accept interstate bets on their races, according to the bill.

The bill also would prohibit the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide two years after its enactment. The raceday use of furosemide is currently legal in all North American racing jurisdictions, and trainers organizations have been staunchly opposed to any change in that policy.

The Thursday heading was conducted under time constraints because of other business on Capitol Hill. Witnesses were given five minutes to speak, and none of the witnesses strayed from longer written statements submitted to the committee in advance, though most were relegated to delivering highly abbreviated versions of those statements. A question-and-answer session following the delivery of the oral statements lasted approximately 20 minutes.

Supporters of the legislation, which included a former state racing commission chairman and Wayne Pacelle, the chief executive of the Humane Society of the U.S., claimed that adoption of the bill would help racing deal with “widespread doping” in the sport, as Pacelle said in his remarks. Jesse Overton, the former chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission, said that “there is an inherent problem with a model consisting of 38 separate regulatory agencies.”

Phil Hanrahan, the chief executive of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, disputed the notion that the use of performance-enhancing drugs in racing is widespread, citing statistics from the Association of Racing Commissioners International showing that 99.97 percent of all post-race drug tests are clean for Class 1 drugs, or those that have no therapeutic benefit in a horse.

“Data shows conclusively that doping of U.S. races is extremely rare,” Hanrahan said.

Several attendees of the hearing, including Rep. Joseph Pitts, (R-Penn.), a sponsor of the bill, cited the widely distributed results of a survey conducted by the Jockey Club earlier this year showing that a vast majority of racing fans share the perception that trainers are using performance-enhancing drugs.

“The perception is that the doping or drug use in racing has become pervasive,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, which conducted the Thursday hearing.

Tygart used most of his presentation to discuss the approach used by international organizations confronted with public-perception problems in the 1990s over the use of drugs in the Olympics. The organizations banded together to develop model rules under the World Anti-Doping Association, and now 172 member countries have adopted those rules, an effort the racing industry is currently trying to emulate through its own Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

So far, nine states have already adopted the model rules, and a number of other states are in the process of adopting the rules. Hanrahan said that those efforts are evidence that the current state-by-state regulation of racing can work.

“In short, H.R. 2012 [the bill] is not needed,” Hanrahan said. “The job is already being done.”

The bill also faces difficulties because of an extreme split among Democrats and Republicans over the extent of the federal government’s power over industries. Republicans, especially Tea Party members, have been steadfast in their opposition to any expansion of government power in recent years, and any bill enlarging the government’s role is expected to meet with stiff resistance from those representatives.

Rep. Gus Billiraki, (R-Fla), in an opening statement, cautioned the committee members about supporting any bill that would lead to federal oversight, a clear harbinger of the hurdles the bill will face if it is to be passed.