By DANYEL VANREENEN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gathering to discuss issues pertaining to the racing industry, Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, led the first Women’s Caucus of the 83rd Legislature on Wednesday.
This year, Upson said the Caucus was especially significant because it was the first year female Senators joined their House counterparts to discuss issues at the meeting.
Focusing on women and the thoroughbred racing industry, Upson said several speakers gave presentations about the history, importance and continuing value of racing in the Eastern Panhandle and the rest of the state.
“I’m from the Eastern Panhandle, so racing is very near and dear to my heart,”Upson said. “I realized that perhaps not everyone in the Legislature had a full understanding of the importance racing has in the state. I wanted to highlight the importance of supporting, promoting and sustaining racing in West Virginia.”
Upson said one of her fears is that racing will be taken for granted at the state level and replaced by new businesses and industries.
Upson said the state budget crisis is also a concern for the industry. According to Upson, the racing industry has been hit hard by the crisis as lawmakers have looked for ways to fill the budget gap. She said pieces of legislature like the “Haircut Bill” that limit and restrict the racing industry have been bandaids and not a long-term fix for a persisting issue.
Although there are no current bills in proposed that would affect the Eastern Panhandle racing industry, Upson said she’s staying vigilant.
“I heard that the finance committee is looking at large scale tax and budget reforms, so we may not see as many small line items,” Upson said.
In addition to budget, Upson said the bipartisan group of women celebrated female success in the male dominated racing industry.
“Racing is heavily dominated by men in terms of numbers,” Upson said. “However, it’s one of the few industries where males and females are equal in terms of pay, percentages of purses and in terms of opportunity.”
Upson also highlighted the diversity and quantity of jobs generated by racing and the roles women can and do play in the industry. She said the races bring jobs like breeders, equine veterinarians, ferriers, groomers and many others.
“The biggest eye opening moment of the day for me was realizing it takes a full five years to produce a foal that’s ready to race,” Upson said. “There’s so much investment and dedication. It really gives you a new appreciation of the industry.”
Upson said she’s looking out for the racing industry in the Eastern Panhandle and will continue to keep an eye on bills that would potentially affect the region.
“Thoroughbred racing is a tremendous economic engine in the Eastern Panhandle, and is an industry that presents great opportunities for women,”Upson said. “We want to highlight those opportunities and see what we can do to promote growth in this industry.”
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