Assembly Panel OKs Limit on CHRB Membership

Legislation limiting the number of commissioners on the California Horse Racing Board who can be licensed to participate in the sport has cleared the state Assembly's appropriations committee and is headed for a full vote on the Assembly floor.

If approved by the Assembly, the bill , SB 863 authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), would need final passage from the California Senate by Sept. 14 in order to become law this year, according to the senator's office. The measure would require that no more than three licensees, including owners, could serve on the commission at one time.

Yee, who has been critical of the CHRB for some of its appointments and contracts, believes the measure will improve the agency's accountability. There are seven commissioners on the CHRB and currently five of them are Thoroughbred owners. That includes three high-profile owners and breeders in California: vice chairman John Harris and commissioners Jerry Moss and John Amerman.

Opponents of the bill, such as the Oak Tree Racing Association and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, argue that the CHRB  commissioners must deal with issues that are unique to horse racing. They contend that it is advantageous to have industry professionals with an extensive knowledge of racing in decision-making positions.

Under current horse racing law, a person is prohibited from serving on the commission if that individual, a spouse or dependent child holds a financial interest in any track; or a financial interest or position of management with any business entity that conducts pari-mutuel horse racing, or has a stake in management or concession contracts. Current law also encourages participation on the board by horse owners.

The legislation cleared the appropriations committee along party lines, with all 10 Democrats voting in favor on the 17-member panel. At least one Republican on the committee also plans to vote for the measure when it comes to the full Assembly, according to Yee's office.

The bill also requires the CHRB to develop and adopt regulations regarding board member conflicts of interests and a code of ethics prior to July 1, 2008, and requires the board to receive annual ethics training. The commission began considering a code of ethis at its Aug. 21 board meeting.

“The California Horse Racing Board has seriously lacked appropriate balance,” said Yee. “The CHRB is tasked with serving the public interest, not the interests of one aspect of the industry over another. It is simply unacceptable for a public board to be dominated by an entity they are charged with regulating.”

According to Yee's office, the states of New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Florida prohibit their racing board members from having any financial interest in the business. 

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