Spilka put hold on racing/simulcast legislation
State House insiders wonder whether she was sending a message
SENATE PRESIDENT KAREN SPILKA’S office said she made the decision to postpone action on horse-racing and simulcasting legislation last week during the Legislature’s final session of the year, leaving final approval until an informal session two days later.
“Senate President Spilka prioritized legislation which required a roll call vote,” said spokeswoman Sarah Blodgett in a statement. “As she has stated previously, she was aware of the seriousness of the simulcasting bill but was also confident that the House and Senate would deal with it swiftly in an informal session, as was ultimately the case.”
The two-day delay, however, meant all horse-racing and simulcasting in the state was shut down for two days until the bill extending the sunset date of racing legislation by another year could be approved. The temporary shutdown forced Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville to put off one of its harness racing meets on Thursday and cost simulcast operators some revenue.
Among State House insiders, what happened to the horse-racing bill has become the focus of some speculation, not because the passage delay had a major impact on the industry but for what it might say about the relationship between House and Senate leaders.
The House gave initial approval to the legislation on July 25, but the Senate waited until July 31, the final night of the session, to take it up. The Senate gave initial approval to the measure around 10:38 p.m. and the House added an emergency preamble to the bill at 11:37 p.m. The Senate remained in session until around 1 a.m., but never took up the bill again that night.
William Welch, the Senate clerk, said the racing legislation never reached him at the Senate podium. “It wasn’t done for whatever reason,” he said. Asked if someone put a hold on it, he said: “That could very well have been.”
Two sources said they suspected Spilka put a hold on the bill because she was upset the House failed to approve a bill she had filed to allow people to list their gender as “X” on a driver’s license. The sources said Spilka decided to send a message to the House by holding up a bill important to House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Suffolk Downs, which runs a simulcast operation and planned to host a race meet over the weekend, is located in DeLeo’s district.
Blodgett, Spilka’s spokeswoman, confirmed her boss put the hold on the racing bill but said the gender identification legislation had nothing to do with it.
“Senate President Spilka was hoping for resolution of the major legislation under consideration, including healthcare and education funding, which continued to be negotiated very late on Tuesday night,” Blodgett said. “At midnight, after which unanimous consent was needed to continue doing business, the [Republican] minority granted consent to remain in session in 15 minute increments, and in the end only for specific legislation.”Senate Minority Leader Richard Tarr did not return phone calls seeking information on his agreements with Spilka extending the session beyond midnight.
Blodgett, in her statement, indicated Spilka won’t be satisfied with continuing the horse-racing status quo in the next legislative session. “She also hopes that next session the Legislature can settle this issue in comprehensive legislation so that we do not face the issue of extending a sunset clause year after year,” Blodgett said, without elaborating on what type of comprehensive legislation Spilka would favor.