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Keeping dog racing jobs

Common sense prevailed in Charleston last week, as state legislators who spend much of their time debating how to bring new jobs to West Virginia realized it would be crazy for them to hand out pink slips to men and women already employed.

For weeks, it had appeared a bill that would have ended greyhound racing in our state would be enacted this year. The measure, Senate Bill 285, would have eliminated about $17.4 million in subsidies to the dog racing industry. The money is paid out of other revenue generated by greyhound tracks in Wheeling and Cross Lanes.

Eliminating the subsidies would have doomed the greyhound industry in our state, along with at least 600 jobs — perhaps as many as 1,700.

Had SB 285 been enacted, the $17.4 million would not have gone back to the gambling casinos that generated the money. It would have flowed into state government coffers.

But something happened on SB 285’s way to the finish line: Partisan politics broke down. Provincialism of the type sometimes seen in Charleston was supplanted by compassion. The needs of people took precedence over government’s welfare.

During debate preceding the vote, state senators from our area, both Democrat and Republican, made excellent points. Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was particularly effective in pointing out claims of the number of dogs killed in greyhound racing have been inflated dramatically.

But what would one have expected our area’s lawmakers to say?

Then Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, took the floor. Twice in the past, he voted for similar bills, he said. He dislikes gambling of any sort, he added.

But then he told fellow lawmakers that “we are always wiling to take a job away from someone else, to jobs away from someone else’s area.” No more, he vowed, saying that “in good conscience, I can’t vote today to take away these people’s jobs.”

Then, by a 23-11 vote, senators killed SB 285. Despite the fact it had been sponsored by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, their party’s leader in that chamber, nine Republicans joined 14 Democrats to defeat the measure.

But before the vote, Carmichael, R-Jackson, made a comment that must not be disregarded. Telling senators that dog racing “is ending all across America,” he said of SB 285: “Whether we do it this year, next year or the year after, it is going to happen.”

Those who oppose greyhound racing on principle, as well as others who want that $17.4 million a year for government, will be back next year, perhaps even before that. At some point, their bite will be worse than their bark — unless a vigorous defense of the industry, including better efforts to keep racing greyhounds safe, is emphasized.

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