Column: Pam Bondi and Lara Trump explain their support for Amendment 13

Greyhounds leave the starting gate at the start of a race  at Tampa Greyhound Track. [Jim Reed/Tampa Tribune file photo]
Greyhounds leave the starting gate at the start of a race at Tampa Greyhound Track. [Jim Reed/Tampa Tribune file photo]
Published Nov. 5, 2018

We want to put in a small word for the humane treatment of dogs.

We are conservative Republican women with a healthy skepticism of government, but we also share a heartfelt commitment to fighting any mistreatment of dogs. Some issues simply transcend party divisions and unite us as people of conscience.

Treating our greyhounds with mercy is one of those issues. That's why we're especially excited to urge Floridians of every political stripe — Democrats, Republicans, independents, or any kind of political breed — to vote "yes" on Amendment 13 to phase out greyhound racing.

Whether you look at the ballot question through the lens of advocating for limited government or stopping the misuse of power in the treatment of dogs, you land in the same place — yes on 13.

Dog racing is illegal in 40 states — and for good reason. The animals are typically relegated to confinement for upwards of 20 hours a day in small, stacked cages inside dark warehouses away from public view. When they are let out of these cages to race, they frequently suffer injuries on the track. The industry will tell you that its trainers, breeders, and handlers care about dogs, and maybe they do. But their record seems to undermine that assurance. Since the state began tabulating greyhound deaths at tracks in 2013, 493 dogs have died. On average, a greyhound dies at a Florida dog track every three days.

Since 1990, the amount wagered on greyhound racing in the Sunshine State has declined by 74 percent, and tax revenue from dog racing has dropped by 98 percent. In 2016, Florida dog tracks lost a combined $34.8 million on racing. The enterprise actually costs state taxpayers money because the regulatory costs exceed revenues that flow back to state coffers. According to a study commissioned by the Florida Legislature, the state is losing between $1 million and $3.3 million annually.

You might ask why such a pitiful business, generating a pittance in state revenues, exists at all. The answer is: crony capitalism. The state requires track operators to divert funds from casino-style gambling to pay for the operations of the dog races. That's why most track owners actually want to end dog racing at their facilities and focus on the profitable side of their businesses.

Years ago, dog-racing businesses negotiated terms with state lawmakers who passed a law requiring gaming facilities to hold a minimum of 100 days of racing per year. Interest in racing has waned as other forms of recreation have surged. Yet, the racing-days requirement endures. It's a vivid reminder of government rules that have outlived their usefulness.

For years, animal welfare advocates, track owners and other interested parties advocated for legislation in Tallahassee to enhance protections for dogs and to eliminate the requirement that tracks must race dogs in front of empty bleachers. But the Legislature failed to get anything meaningful passed on this issue.

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That's why Republicans and Democrats on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission joined hands to refer this issue to the ballot on Election Day this November 6. This amendment does not change existing gaming or other gambling at tracks, but phases out dog racing and the mistreatment of greyhounds. Now it's up to voters to unshackle and uncage the dogs — as well as the businesses that want out of an enterprise that serves to benefit almost no one in Florida today.

Lara Trump is the daughter-in-law of President Trump, and Pam Bondi is the attorney general of Florida.