Lynn Bechler

Last week was a busy week in the House of Representatives with a number of bills being presented in committee and having a vote on the House floor. In this week’s update I will focus on two (2) bills on which I voted no, and one (1) bill presented in committee.

Senate Bill 120 (SB-120) was the bill addressing Historical Horse Racing (HHR). HHR came to Kentucky about ten (10) years ago by approval of the Horse Racing Commission after the General Assembly year after year chose not to approve additional gambling of any type in Kentucky. HHR takes place on a slot machine when the gambler wagers on a race that has already been run. Shortly after approving HHR, the Horse Racing Commission took itself to court to seek the blessing of the court that HHR was legal.

The Circuit Court ruled HHR was legal, but the Family Foundation subsequently appealed the decision and after being in the court system for ten (10) years, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled unanimously that HHR was illegal. The Supreme Court decision did not specifically address the constitutionality of HHR, but rather focused on the definition of pari-mutuel which is the form of betting at horse tracks themselves and supposedly also on HHR machines. Pari-mutuel wagering had never been explicitly defined in Kentucky law (even though it was in effect at all Kentucky tracks), but Meriam-Webster defines pari-mutuel as “a betting pool in which those who bet on competitors finishing in the first three places share the total amount bet minus a percentage for the management.” Clearly the HHR slot machines did not do that.

In an effort to get around the Supreme Court’s ruling, SB-120 redefined pari-mutuel as any method approved by the Horse Racing Commission. To me, this made about as much sense as redefining water as any liquid the legislature wanted it to be.

The Kentucky Center for economic policy noted that HHR is on track for over a $3 Billion handle (the amount wagered) this year alone. Kentucky’s tax on these slot machines is 1.5% of the handle. Other money goes to the horse racing industry to support the purses (the amount paid out to the top finishers of a particular race), other industry endeavors, and profit.

The argument in favor of SB-120 was economic; thousands of people would lose their jobs and horse racing, Kentucky’s “signature industry”, would move to other states if HHR was not allowed. I was certainly sympathetic to those who might lose their jobs, but the fact was that the horse racing industry had itself gambled on the legality of the slot machines and lost the gamble. I was not in favor of the corporate bailout that would retroactively make this type of gambling legal and let the corporations keep their profit. Would Churchill Down, Keenland, and the other Kentucky tracks repay people for money they lost on a gamble? I think not.

There were impassioned floor speeches on both sides of the issue, and as I said, I voted No. Ultimately, though, the House passed SB-120. Since the House approved the bill without changing anything the Senate had already approved, SB-120 has been sent to the Governor for his action. Should he sign it as I anticipate, the bill would become law. My suspicion, however, is that HHR will once again end up in court.

House Bill 7 (HB-7) would create an advisory council which will result in a Recovery Ready Certification for Kentucky communities. The council will be tasked with coming up with standards for communities looking to help those recovering from substance abuse, and to provide guidance to communities in developing a recovery ready ecosystem. The theory is that by putting this council in place, state and local governments can work together to get the most out of every resource invested into recovery.

The legislature has tried similar activities in the past. One such was developing a Work Ready Communities program. Although I have seen many Work Ready Community signs across the Commonwealth, I have not seen any positive effect in bringing jobs to a community due to the designation of a community being work ready. Therefore as I said earlier, I voted No. The bill did pass the House, though, and has been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

House Bill 360 (360) is a bill I filed to direct that any individual or business penalized by business license restrictions or fines under the Governor’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic shall have their license restored and fines refunded. With a handful of executive orders, the Governor put thousands of Kentuckians out-of-work and caused many business to struggle to barely stay afloat. I believe it is imperative that some action be taken to recognize that people trying to stay in business during this pandemic should not be further penalized simply because they tried to keep their business open. I presented HB-360 in committee where it passed. It has now been sent to the full House where I hope it will be heard and voted upon.

As always, thank you for reading my updates and thank you for contacting me with your concerns and thoughtful suggestions. It is a privilege to represent you in the Kentucky House of Representatives and your input helps me make decisions that best represent the views of the Fourth District. I may be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800- 372- 7181, directly at 502- 564- 8100, by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at legislature.ky.gov and clicking on the Legislature button and then the contact a member link, or by mail to the Capitol Annex -Frankfort, KY 40601.