By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is pushing for a legislative fix to a law designed to make horse racing safer after an appeals court last month ruled it unconstitutional, a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters.
The changes to the law, which would provide greater federal oversight of the board charged with writing and implementing safety rules, would be included in a full-year spending bill, known as an omnibus, which could pass later this month.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) was created by Congress in 2020 to replace the state-by-state patchwork of regulations with national rules following a series of high-profile doping scandals and horse deaths that rocked the industry.
But the law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in Louisiana, which said there was insufficient government oversight of the new authority in a case brought by various horse racing associations and some states.
McConnell, who hails from the horse racing stronghold of Kentucky, played a key role in getting the law passed and will seek changes to enhance the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) oversight of HISA, the source who spoke directly with the lawmaker said.
The source asked not to be identified to speak freely about the negotiations. McConnell's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
If the changes are adopted as part of the spending bill, the law's backers say there should be no interruption to the implementation of HISA's rules, including the anticipated launch of its anti-doping and medication control program next month.
Supporters say the law is necessary to protect horses, jockeys and the sport as a whole, which they argue could fall out of favor with the public permanently if horses continue to die in training and competition.
Opponents argue that HISA would replace states' regulatory structures and allow new fees to be imposed on the industry.
While not guaranteed, McConnell told the source there is the political will in the Senate to pass the full-year spending bill as two key members of the Appropriations Committee – chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) – are set to retire and want to leave with the bill done.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)