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Mine safety legislation now awaits Gov. Tomblin's signature

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's legislation to toughen mine safety standards (HB4351) is on the way to the governor's desk for his signature, after passing the Senate Tuesday on a 34-0 vote.

"I'm confident it's a good, important piece of legislation that will improve mine safety," Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said after the bill's passage.

Unlike the House - where the bill passed 95-0 after several long, impassioned speeches, including a rare floor speech from House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, recounting his father's death in the mines in 1952 - the Senate passed the measure without discussion.

Kessler said that was not surprising, since the bill had gone through two Senate committees before reaching the Senate floor.

"Folks had done their homework on the bill by the time it hit the floor," he said.

On Tuesday evening, the House concurred on one minor change the Senate made to the bill, then voted 90-0 to send the bill to the governor.

The legislation makes several revisions to mine safety laws, including:

| Making it a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and up to five years in prison, to provide advance notice of an unannounced mine inspection.

| Putting into state law an ongoing mine safety tip hotline.

| Requiring mine supervisors to review and sign off on daily mine operating reports at least once every two weeks.

| Setting new requirements for detecting and responding to excess methane in mines, including requiring withdrawing all individuals from areas with 1.5 percent methane concentrations.

| Allow surviving family members to have representation on mine fatality investigations.

| Requiring pre-employment and random drug testing. The provision was included, although the investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster concluded that drug abuse was not a contributing factor.

Also Tuesday in the Legislature:

| Addressing concerns by delegates reluctant to impose mandatory jail or prison terms for persons convicted of graffiti, House Finance Committee members approved a revised version of the bill (SB408) that gives judges the option to impose fines, community service or imprisonment.

Unlike the original House version of the bill, which imposed mandatory jail time for first- and second-offense violations, the revised bill leaves incarceration as an option only for third-offense convictions.

The committee also restored a provision from the House bill, allowing judges to issue orders suspending drivers' licenses for juveniles convicted of graffiti for up to two years.

The bill goes to the full House.

| The Senate passed 34-0 and sent to the governor legislation to allow state driver's licenses to have designations for honorably discharged military veterans (HB4330). West Virginia will become the latest of several states to include the designation, which is intended, in part, to make it easier for veterans to obtain military discounts and other benefits without having to provide paperwork.

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

 


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