A bill to save the horse-racing industry in Pennsylvania is on the cusp of passage after it was unanimously advanced by a House committee Monday.
The House bill is a slightly amended version of a bill that passed in the Senate over the summer. It represents a compromise worked out by Gov. Wolf, legislative leaders, and industry representatives - an accord that at times seemed close to collapsing.
The vote Monday may have made such a collapse less likely.
"While we want to take a closer look at some of the other amendments adopted today, we are in a good position to continue conversations as the full House considers the bill," Brandi Hunter-Davenport, press secretary for the Department of Agriculture, said in an email.
The legislation seeks to ensure the long-term financial stability of an industry that has seen declining revenues as its popularity has steadily dropped. Under the House bill, the state would no longer be responsible for paying for drug tests for horses; it currently pays about $9 million to $10 million a year in drug-testing costs. Additionally, the bill would increase certain industry fines and licensure fees for the first time in more than 30 years.
The $1.6 billion industry supports about 23,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. Two of the state's six tracks - Parx, in Bensalem, and Harrah's, in Chester - are in the Philadelphia region.
Rep. Martin Causer (R., McKean), chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, which advanced the bill, said he was "very disappointed" in a recent announcement from the Wolf administration that it was prepared to shut down horse racing statewide if a consensus on industry funding was not reached. Causer said that moving the bill forward was a way to end the threat of a shutdown.
Even as a state budget impasse endures, a fix for the horse-racing industry could become law, said Mike Rader, executive director of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. If the full House approves the bill, that version will go back to the Senate. Approval there would send the bill to the governor's desk, where Rader said he expected the governor would sign it.
"We don't need a budget to pass this," he said.
"We will continue to review the legislation as it moves through the process," Jeff Sheridan, press secretary for Gov. Wolf, said in an email following Monday's committee vote.