Calif. Racing Board Bill Tabled Until 2008

A legislative attempt to limit the number of horse owners who can serve on the California Horse Racing Board won't become law this year.

Sen. Leland Yee's measure was left on the state Assembly floor without a vote as the 2007 legislative session came to an end Sept. 14. Yee, a Democrat whose San Francisco district includes Bay Meadows Race Course, has been a severe critic of the seven-member CHRB commission.

The measure would have precluded more than three racing licensees, including owners, from serving on the board at a time. Currently, there are five Thoroughbred owners on the board.

Adam J. Keigwin, a spokesman for Yee, said the legislation would be revisited.

"In discussions with the governor's office, we were not convinced that the governor was going to sign it," Keigwin said. "Given the flurry of last-minute legislation that needed action in the Assembly, we thought it best to continue that discussion with the governor's office and pick it up again in January."

Most of the California racing industry is opposed to the bill, arguing it is advantageous to have industry professionals with an extensive knowledge of racing in decision-making positions. Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows, both owned by Bay Meadows Land Company, supported the measure, contending that it is improper for any one segment of the industry to have so much power over regulation and enforcement of CHRB rules.

"I felt (the bill) was very bad legislation and am pleased that it never got out of the Assembly," said John Harris, CHRB vice chairman and a major owner and breeder in the state. "I always felt it had little chance of passing out of the legislature and felt it would have been vetoed by the governor if somehow it did.

"I feel people with CHRB licenses should be able to serve on the racing board. They should be neither preferred or denied based strictly on their license status. Subject to many existing conflict of interest policies, the governor should be able to appoint whoever he desires. That appointment is subject to state Senate confirmation, and the Senate can obviously decline to confirm someone if it feels it is not a sound appointment. Racing is a complicated sport and business, and the state needs people on the board that understand it."   

Yee, who fought the Bay Meadows closure earlier this year and has criticized the board for many of its contracts and appointments, said he believes the measure will improve the agency's accountability.

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