DeGazon supports the horse industry
Horse Racing has an extensive history in the Virgin Islands, with many notable families and names at the helm of the industry which has brought much joy to the community. Once upon a time, residents would flock to the racetrack for Easter for the first major race day on the Crucian horse racing calendar. Many disputes, at this time, have halted the coveted races and horse racing now stands in limbo.
While the racing portion slowed, during my first year in senate I put horse owners as a priority. The races may be halted, but horses and their owners still needed assistance. Due to horses not being properly defined in the Virgin Islands Code, the horsemen were without help. I wanted to find a way to connect my expertise in agriculture with the needs of the locals in the horse racing industry to broaden their opportunities.
Through research with my team, I learned that in 2018 Congress passed an agriculture bill defining horses as livestock. In doing so, commercial horse owners and breeders are treated as farmers and have access to technical expertise and monetary support, and also receive tax benefits. From here, my bill—33-0036—was born to help local horsemen territory-wide.
Bill No. 33-0036 was an Act amending title 7, chapter 1, subchapter I, section 2 of the Virgin Islands Code by including horses in the definition of livestock. The bill was structured to match that of the bill passed in Congress. However, while the bill received the support of the horse racing commission, notable horsemen and some of my colleagues, it also received backlash from the Department of Agriculture who believed that livestock only meant “consumption,” and also said that they did not have the capacity to care for horses. There was also a concern with the bill being abused by people who may secure a stray horse just to seek tax exemption.
In an effort to save the bill and compromise with the demands presented, the bill was amended. However, in doing so, the bill regrettably diverted from its original course. The bill that moved through Rules and Judiciary and Legislative Session and ultimately landed on the Governor’s desk was a different bill than before.
The bill’s amendments—which defined horses for the use of racing, not consumption--addressed the concerns of the Department of Agriculture, the horse racing commission and senators as presented from the July 12th hearing from the Committee on Economic Development, Regulations and Agriculture. The new bill read as--An Act amending title 32, chapter 1, section 203 of the Virgin Islands Code by establishing a definition of “horse’ for the purposes of horse racing.
However, the amendment defined horses as thoroughbred. The reasoning behind that, was to have the horses registered with the National Jockey Club through the local body in the territory. The bill was expected to provide small business opportunities and also strengthen the presence of the horse racing industry in the Virgin Islands, allow horses to be bred and purchased from the Virgin Islands, provide technical support for horse owners and open the doors for more equine veterinary practices in the territory through its Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA).
However, on January 18, 2020, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. vetoed the bill. In his transmittal letter to the Senate President, the governor took issue horses being defined as “thoroughbreds.”
“I have vetoed Bill No. 33-0036. An Act amending title 32, chapter 11. section 203 of the Virgin Islands Code to establish a definition for the word “horse” as used in the chapter regulating horse races. Although the intent of the bill is clear, the language used and placement within the VI. Code has a detrimental effect on the regulations. At first glance, the use of “thoroughbred” as a definition for “horse” seems to limit horse racing to the racing of thoroughbreds. In actuality, by placing this definition in title 32, chapter 11 the VI Code, controlling horse racing, the Legislature will now limit the authority of the Horse Racing Commission to only thoroughbreds. Who will then have the authority to regulate any other horses that VI residents may decide to race? Title 32, chapter 11. section 202 of the V.1. Code, titled “Supervision and regulation of horse racing” authorizes the Commission, at subsection (3), “To provide for the classification and registration of racehorses in the Virgin Islands as a condition precedent to eligibility for participation in horse races.” As this classification is already within the scope of responsibility of the Commission and to preserve authority of the Commission to regulate horse racing in its general scope. I must veto this bill and urge the Horse Racing Commission to amend the rules and regulations to effectuate the goals of this bill.”
The veto didn’t stop the bill. We have taken the governor’s suggestion in mind, and my team and I have been reworking the bill to continue to assist with the development of the horse racing industry, while inserting language to give our local horsemen relief and support as well.