A bill to provide workers' compensation insurance to licensed Thoroughbred jockeys cleared the Kentucky House Committee on Licensing and Occupations March 8, but not without questions and cautions from committee members.
The bill, which mirrors recommendations made last year by an 11-member blue-ribbon panel appointed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher to study the issue of on-track jockey accident insurance coverage, now heads to the floor of the Kentucky House of Representatives.
"Let me offer something you heard from the committee members," Democratic Rep. Denver Butler, chairman of the House Committee on Licensing and Occupations, said during the March 8 hearing. "The bill came to us late in the session. When bills come in late, it makes a lot of people leery. With the distrust that many of us have of the (Kentucky) Horse Racing Authority at this point, you have a lot of work to do."
Republican Rep. Carolyn Belcher filed a bill Feb. 28 to create the Kentucky Jockey Injury Corp. to be governed by a nine-member board of directors that would be responsible for purchasing workers' compensation insurance for licensed jockeys, including apprentice jockeys.
It also creates the Kentucky Jockey Injury Fund, which would be financed by a premium paid by racetracks, with each facility's liability proportionate to the percentage of starts compared to total starts; a premium paid by owners based on a per-start fee in an amount determined by a review of the previous year starts; and 1% of the owner's share of the winning purse.
The 1% of the owner's share of the winning purse would be subtracted from the 10% normally paid from the owner to the winning jockey.
Darrell Haire, interim national manager of the Jockeys' Guild and a member of the blue-ribbon panel, said he is happy the bill is moving forward. However, he is opposed to a reduction in the percentage of the purse paid to the winning jockey.
"The riders don't believe they should have to pay a cent for this coverage," he said. "There are a million people in the country covered by workmans' comp, and they don't have to pay. Jockeys in the five other states that offer workmans' comp don't have to pay. Most riders are just trying to get by, and they can't afford this."
According to the bill, licensed jockeys and apprentice jockeys would be considered employees of the KJIC for the purpose of the workers' compensation fund and would be required to undergo an annual physical examination. The fund would pay for the examinations.
Under the bill, exercise riders are considered employees of the trainer who has hired them to work horses. As a result, all trainers would be required to purchase workers' compensation insurance for exercise riders.
An amendment to include exercise riders under the fund failed to win committee approval. Exercise riders in Kentucky are currently not licensed by the KHRA. The issue of licensing exercise riders could soon be addressed by the KHRA.
"We need to stop and say, if we do that (include exercise riders) how do we pay for it and what changes would that cause," Belcher said. "The other thing is, right now the authority is not licensing exercise riders, so we need to get through that process so we know who is an exercise rider and who's covered. The reason the blue-ribbon panel reached their decision to treat them not in the fund but for workers' comp purposes is because 85% of trainers currently carry workers' comp insurance for them."
The fund is expected to need about $1.2 million annually to pay for the program.