TALLAHASSEE (CBS4)- A measure that could hasten the end of greyhound racing in Florida passed the Senate on Friday after a clash over amendments and the chamber’s process.
The bill (HB 1145) would do away with the requirement for dog tracks to run races if they want to operate card rooms, but the Senate approved an amendment aimed at phasing out the requirement as opposed to ending it automatically. The change would gradually reduce tax breaks for the tracks that run races over a period five years, giving breeders and dog owners time to prepare for the industry’s demise, according to The News Service of Florida.
But it also means the bill has to go back through the House before heading to Gov. Rick Scott.
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, said the amendment should give trainers time to find other lines of work and would likely discourage track owners from getting rid of dogs through cruel means.
“I didn’t want to have them look at 125 dogs and say, ‘Get these dogs out of here tomorrow; we’re not feeding them anymore,’” Sachs said.
The bill passed 25-14, with two Democrats and 12 Republicans opposing the measure, The News Service of Florida said.
Supporters say the bill is necessary because greyhound racing is becoming less and less profitable even as the pari-mutuels’ card rooms thrive. But the bill drew fire from senators across the spectrum, from those who argued that it eroded the intent of licenses for dog tracks to some of those opposed to gambling on moral grounds.
“We didn’t give licenses for casinos,” said Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. “We gave licenses for pari-mutuels.”
Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, an anti-gaming Republican from Orlando, called the measure a part of “the slow creep” of legalized gambling after dog tracks originally pushed for the card games purportedly as a way to supplement their racing income.
“This is a huge, huge, ‘See — I told you so,’” Gardiner said.
Backers said the bill would not expand gambling, but allow a dying industry to rest in peace.
“What I think it is, is a recognition of economic reality,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, an anti-gambling Republican from Niceville.
Opponents said that wasn’t enough.
“If that’s the intent of the bill, for the industry to go away, then maybe the pari-mutuels should go away as well,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, who chairs the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, ripped into the process for passing the bill, saying Gardiner had assured him that the bill would not be voted on Friday and arguing that legislative leaders had pressured the sponsors of an amendment to help the thoroughbred industry during a lengthy recess before the Senate took up the bill.
“To me, the process is worth adhering to,” said Latvala. “The respect of each of our words to the other one, in this body, is worth something.”
That brought a sharp rejoinder from Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who said no one was pressured to withdraw their amendments and that the Senate needed to turn its attention to other bills as the session enters its final week.
“I allowed this bill to come up today because I wanted to handle it and send it out. … Today, we’re going to vote on this so that we can focus on other issues,” he said.
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