About 50 members of the horse industry met in a public forum Oct. 29 to discuss the potential impact of a new Florida law that authorizes regulation in public and private sales.
The law, which was signed by Gov. Charlie Crist in early June, gives charge to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to examine conditions of sale and “adopt rules…to prevent unfair trade practices” involving ownership disclosure, dual agency, and medical disclosure, among others.
DOACS director of communications Terence McElroy said the forum was productive in bringing out public input on the law, which was championed by owner/breeder Earle I. Mack. But, he noted, not everyone agreed on everything.
“There was not unanimous consensus, and it was not without controversy,” McElroy said.
Mack, a New York businessman who is a former Ambassador to Finland, believes the DOACS made it clear what the department’s job is. “The regulators said this is not about exploring what we are going to do -- they have a mandate from the legislature to write these rules and regulate them,” said Mack, a Florida resident. “They said there is no question about what the process is, or the kinds of laws they are going to write, because they are mandated."
McElroy said the DOACS anticipates at least a portion of the rules the department develops will be challenged before an administrative judge.
“We may not be able to come up with rules that can withstand statutory challenge,” he said, noting such edicts can be challenged in a court of law. "Whatever we write is likely to be challenged.”
Unlike Kentucky, where 36 members of the horse industry met for months as a task force to give recommendations on proposed state legislation, the Florida law was passed without broad input from the horse industry.
McElroy said the DOACS has been counting on the horse industry to provide constructive input into how rules should be written. “After all, we are not in the business of buying and selling horses,” he said.
Joel Turner, a Louisville-based attorney who counts Mack as one of his clients, has helped develop suggested rules for the state to adopt.
“We all appreciated the opportunity to present our concerns to the representatives of Commissioner (Charles) Bronson and his staff,” Turner said. “They took a great deal of time to understand everyone’s concerns. I feel everyone left feeling like they had more than ample opportunity to express their interest in the process, and in promulgating rules that protect the integrity of the industry.”
Richard Hancock, executive vice-president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, said the forum offered the opportunity for “open frank discussion,” and allowed the DOACS to see the issues from all sides.
“Generally speaking, there are a lot of areas in which we all agreed, and some others where we are concerned with how they will work out,” Hancock said. “But I think everyone is on the same wave length in that we all want to encourage people to get into the business.”
Hancock deferred comment on specific issues raised in the forum to Tom Ventura, general manager and director of sales for Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. Attempts by The Blood-Horse to interview Ventura for this article were unsuccessful.
There was a one-week period for additional comments to be filed with the DOACS. McElroy said the department hopes to have a draft of proposed rules ready by early December.