California Bill Clears Senate Committee

Major legislation that would authorize account wagering and unionization of backstretch workers cleared the California Senate Appropriations Committee Monday and now heads to the Senate floor.

Less than a year ago, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a telephone account wagering bill. The current measure has widespread support. If the bill is passed by the Senate and Assembly, it would need to have Davis' signature by July 20 to become law.

Major changes have been made to the revised bill, including amendments that affect trainers and backstretch help. Many horse racing officials had problems with the initial wording of the bill, and have been negotiating with labor leaders to make changes.

After five days of negotiations, both sides agreed that elections, not a card-check procedure, should be used if workers want to form a union. The new provision would require California Service Employees International to get signatures from 30% of backstretch workers and then hold a vote to decide if there is enough interest to create a union.

"A significant amount of people had trouble with the bill's original language," said Doug Burge, general manager and executive vice president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. "We were in favor of a secret ballot election, which many unions have. We were glad that we came to a resolution."

Burge said a different labor bill has been placed on hold until the outcome of Assembly Bill 471 is determined.

John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said the organization voted July 5 to accept the bill.
"I don't want to make any predictions," Van de Kamp said of the bill's future. "But the legislature has been very supportive, and played a major role in helping us work with labor."

The revised legislation would allow for account wagering by California bettors. Industry officials say telephone wagering would provide a boost to racing and attract more off-track revenue. But Davis vetoed a similar bill last year because he was opposed to an expansion of gambling in a state that has seen a proliferation of Indian casinos in recent years.