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Tomblin remains optimistic about mine safety bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Wednesday he remains optimistic that an agreement will be worked out on his bill to improve coal mine safety (HB4351).

"It could happen very shortly," he said Wednesday afternoon. "It could be by today that we get these differences worked out."

However, by Wednesday evening, a compromise had yet to be reached, as coal industry lobbyists continued pushback on several key points in the bill.

The bill, one of the keystones of Tomblin's 2012 legislative agenda, was to have been on amendment stage on the House floor on Tuesday, but the House Rules Committee moved it to the inactive calendar, after coal industry lobbyists objected to several provisions in the bill.

Closed-door negotiations continued throughout the day Wednesday, but House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said of the discussions, "Sometimes, it seemed like we were slipping back instead of moving forward."

He said Tomblin, House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, were planning to meet Wednesday evening to determine the status of the legislation.

"They're meeting to see if we can get a mine safety bill," Miley said.

Based on recommendations from investigations of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners, the House version of the governor's bill includes a number of provisions adopted from a mine safety bill sponsored by Thompson and other House leaders (HB4085).

One of those provisions became a key sticking point for coal industry representatives: The issue of surviving family members being able to select a representative to participate in the mine fatality investigations.

Tomblin said Wednesday he believed a compromise had been worked out on that issue.

"It went from, originally, for it to be either a union representative or a lawyer, and now, as I understand it, it's open to anyone the family chooses, whether it be a pastor or whoever," Tomblin said.

Industry lobbyists had objected to having union representatives on mine fatality investigations at non-union mines.

However, numerous other points appeared unresolved late Wednesday, including a provision that would require a mine operator/owner or the ranking superintendent to sign off on daily mine operations' logbooks.

Industry representatives objected to that requirement, noting that operators and superintendents aren't always on mine sites on a daily basis, Miley said.

The bill initially appeared to be progressing smoothly, after some initial objections from labor over proposed requirements for drug and alcohol testing of miners.

A compromise would need to be reached by Monday, since Feb. 29 is the last day the House of Delegates can act on House bills this session.

The bill would then go on to the Senate, with 10 days remaining in the 2012 regular session.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

 

 


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