Florida Sets Limit on Auction Rules

Florida Sets Limit on Auction Rules
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The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services claims it doesn’t have the power to regulate certain aspects of horse sales in the state, but is prepared to publish proposed rules it says are intended to prevent unfair or deceptive trade practices.

The FDACS, which was empowered by 2007 state legislation to develop rules regulating horse sales in Florida, plans to publish its initial draft for comment in the state government’s Florida Administrative Weekly Jan. 25.

A draft provided by the FDACS said the rules were developed with input from a variety of groups, but believes wide-sweeping proposals on such hot-button issues as drug testing and ownership transparency go beyond legislation signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist last June. The agency also said it would not develop or enforce penalties for violations of rules.

“Although there was an expressed interest in including those issues such as drug testing for use of steroids or other drugs; licensing of agents; enforcement of rule, and penalties for violations  . . .  we did not include them in the rule proposal as we believe they are beyond the scope of the legislation,” wrote the FDACS’s Kerry Flack.

In explaining its reasons for limiting the rules’ scope, the FDACS said in part that the Florida Legislature would need to appropriate funding for drug testing, and a library to provide results for the tests.

“Challenges to tests would also be expensive and time consuming and would require additional legal staff,” Flack wrote.

While providing rules to regulate the deceptive practice of dual agency, the FDACS said mandatory ownership disclosure is not required, “since it would not create a deceptive or unfair trade practices.”

“… Nothing in this rule chapter shall require disclosure of the reserves, the identity of the owner or purchaser, or the auctioneer's commissions,” the rule specifically said of in regard to public Thoroughbred auctions in Florida.

The law empowering the FDACS to promulgate rules on horse sales was added to a larger bill dealing with agritourism issues.

According to the bill, the FDACS was to “examine the conditions surrounding the sale and purchase of horses and … adopt rules pursuant” to Florida law. Included in the process were examinations of such integrity issues such as ownership disclosure, dual agency, and “disclosure of relevant medical conditions, defects, and surgeries…”

Horse owner/breeder Earle I. Mack, who led the charge for the Florida auction legislation, said while the proposed rules are a “good first step,” there are “several additional issues of great importance that will also need to be addressed.”

“These areas were specifically recognized by the Florida Legislature when it passed legislation requiring transparency in the purchase and sale of horses in Florida, and we will work with the agency on the next steps to ensure the goal of transparency, so as to eliminate deceptive and unfair practices,” Mack said in a Jan. 24 statement.

“The lead that Florida has taken has been recognized by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, whose chair, Marsha Naify, issued a position statement … (which) addresses these additional issues and emphasizes the importance of these protections for the well-being of the horse industry and the public, which were also of critical concern to the Florida Legislature.”  

An official with Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. said the proposed rules are reasonable, claiming the dual agency provisions are similar to a Kentucky law passed in 2006 that has generally been well-received.

“There were two different public forums where the pros and cons of these issues were discussed,” said OBS director of sales and general manager Tom Ventura. “I think the majority of the concerns are addressed through the dual agency language.

“It isn’t overly restrictive, and allows us to adapt to the marketplace,” he continued, noting recent OBS policy changes such as a new drug-testing program for the company’s 2-year-old sales. “We can’t operate in a marketplace where the buyers don’t like the conditions. We have to have a balance between the buyers and the sellers.”

A 21-day period for final comment and challenges will follow the Jan. 25 publication of the rules in the Florida Administrative Weekly. If warranted, hearings on any challenges will then be scheduled.

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