TAMPA, Florida — The last constitutional amendment on the ballot this November is the shortest and easiest to read, but it’s generated a reasonable amount of controversy on its own.
Amendment 13 seeks to end commercial dog racing in Florida, and it states, "the humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida."
FAST FACTS ON AMENDMENT 13:
- Amendment 13 “phases out commercial dog racing” in the state by the year 2020.
- Amendment 13 would add a new section to Article X and Article XII in the Florida Constitution.
- Florida was the first state to allow for commercial dog racing for gambling in 1931. Now, only six states have greyhound race tracks.
- There are 11 dog racing facilities in the state. That’s the most in the country.
- Supporters of the amendment include Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, the group Protect Dogs - Yes on 13 and the Committee to Protect Greyhounds.
- Opponents include the Committee to Support Greyhounds, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Greyhound Association.
How would Amendment 13 work?
Amendment 13 would phase out commercial dog racing in Florida by 2020.
Currently, 40 states ban commercial dog racing, and four other states where racing is legal have no tracks. So racing is only happening in six states:
- West Virginia
While the amendment would end racing in Florida, the tracks would be able to offer off-track betting on races in other states.
The amendment would also allow dog tracks to keep other gaming activities like card games and slot machines.
Why are supporters pushing for this amendment?
Melissa Zepeda is a Bay area coordinator with the Protect Dogs – Yes on 13 campaign. She has been speaking with voters about the amendment.
“Dog racing is absolutely cruel and inhumane,” said Zepeda. “Obviously as dog lovers, we don’t want dogs dying over a two dollar bet.”
According to the state of Florida’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, a greyhound dies, on average, every three days on one of the commercial race tracks.
Supporters of the amendment also allege the greyhounds are being mistreated by being forced to stay in kennels for long hours at a time.
“It’s not humane to confine these dogs this way,” Zepeda said.
The amendment was proposed by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to create amendments for Floridians to vote on. The amendment was supported by a bipartisan group of state officials, including Attorney General Pam Bondi and State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.
Who is opposing this amendment?
The National Greyhound Association tried to offer public tours of the tracks and kennels in Florida. The state warned that a public tour could violate state regulations.
“These people aren’t doing anything wrong,” said artist Jeff Sonksen. He said he plans to vote against Amendment 13. “Most importantly, these greyhounds aren’t being abused.”
At the Sanford-Orlando Kennel club, the manager said $450,000 has been invested to upgrade the track to make sure it's safe for the greyhounds when they're racing. The club has been racing dogs since 1935.
“These dogs are treated well,” said Mitchell Cohen, who runs the Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club. “They’re fed well-balanced diets, there’s a 98 percent adoption rate, which is much better than a lot of shelters and humane societies.”
The Florida Greyhound Association filed a lawsuit in Leon County’s Circuit Court. The group alleged the amendment was misleading and vague. The Circuit Court judge ruled the amendment should be removed from the ballot.
But the Florida Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling, making way for Amendment 13 appear on the ballot.
Amendment 13 opponents also say the issue is one that should be handled by the Florida Legislature, not through the Florida Constitution.
But getting the Florida Legislature to take any action on greyhounds has been difficult. Efforts to push for more reporting of injuries during racing, and to ban giving the dogs steroids, have failed repeatedly in the Florida Legislature.
Amendment 13 needs to win 60 percent of the vote in Florida to be added to the constitution.