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No bailout for industry needed, dog racing ban backer tells lawmakers

“Such legislation is not necessary by any means.”

One of the main proponents of the state’s recently passed ban on dog racing is telling legislators it’s “not necessary” to pass a bill “implementing” Amendment 13 — and that includes a bailout for the greyhound industry.

But an industry lobbyist says it’s absolutely needed — and required.

Dogs “are personal property, and property has value,” said Paul Hawkes, a former appellate judge and now lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association. “These dogs were worth thousands and thousands of dollars, and … we’d rather (get compensated) through legislation.”

To be clear, “we are not opposed to such legislation and, if it is filed, urge you to include funding for greyhound adoption,” said Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA Worldwide, a greyhound protection group.

He penned a letter to House Gaming Control Subcommittee Chairman David Santiago, a Deltona Republican, on Friday. The subcommittee meets Wednesday to receive an update by the “Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering on the implementation of Amendment 13,” according to an online agenda.

“However, such legislation is not necessary by any means,” Theil wrote. “The false perception that an Amendment 13 implementation bill must pass would likely serve only to create a legislative vehicle for other changes in law.”

Not so, Hawkes countered: “You have no right to take away someone’s property without compensating them. Compensating the (dog) owners is not a discretionary act … the Legislature is obligated to pay them.”

The Legislature can pass implementing bills to provide enforcement provisions or otherwise fill in details for constitutional amendments. Amendment 13, which does away with betting on live dog racing in Florida, won approval in November by 69 percent.

Shortly after the amendment passed, some breeders and trainers started talking about lawmakers cushioning the blow of the loss of income with a payout.

At least one legislative leader quickly tamped down that idea: “Coming and asking for a compensation package is probably a tough row to hoe for them,” Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has said.

And Theil reiterated racing ban supporters’ position that while they don’t oppose a pay package, “there is no legitimate legal claim for compensation” under state or federal law.

Moreover, Theil questioned the “rush of homeless dogs” that greyhound interests feared: “It is now clear that greyhound breeding was in sharp decline even before the vote. As a result, racing kennels are retaining greyhounds for longer periods of time and adoption groups are receiving fewer dogs.

“We do anticipate that a large number of dogs will become available by late 2020, and helping these dogs find homes will require logistical and financial support,” he added. “Sadly, greyhound adoption has been politicized in recent years and the industry is now only giving dogs to groups that publicly defend it.”

Amendment 13, placed on the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission, outlaws placing bets on greyhound and other dog races, such as at the state’s pari-mutuels.

The amendment allows greyhound racing to continue through the end of 2020. The proposal, however, allows other gambling at tracks, such as card games, to continue even after dog racing ends.

“Three greyhound racetracks (Pensacola Greyhound Track, Melbourne Greyhound Track, and Big Easy) have already ended greyhound racing,” Theil’s letter says. “A fourth facility, Naples-Ft. Myers Greyhound Track, has been given state approval to cut its schedule in half ….

“Two other tracks (Ebro Greyhound Park and Sarasota Kennel Club) have announced they will likely end dog racing in 2019, and we expect Naples to also end racing in 2019 or early 2020. The final five facilities will likely hold races until late 2020.”

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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