Rally urges mine safetyadmin
FRANKFORT – A top labor leader accused a House committee chairman yesterday of delaying action on a coal-mine safety bill because of his ties to the industry.
State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan told reporters after a rally in the Capitol Rotunda for a coal-mine safety bill that House Natural Resources and Environment Committee Chairman Jim Gooch has received about $25,000 in campaign contributions from the coal industry and that he does private business with the industry.
Londrigan said House Bill 207 is being held hostage in Gooch’s committee. The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said he had hoped the committee would have considered the bill earlier this week, but that did not occur. He did not know why.
Gooch, D-Providence, said there is a “good chance” his committee will hear the bill today and that he resented Londrigan’s comments. It is on the committee’s agenda. “I’m going to do my job here,” Gooch said. “If that means we have time to pass this bill, we may very well. But if doing my job means we don’t have time, then we won’t.
“I can tell you right now all the pressure in the world is not going to make me not do my job. I take it very seriously. I’m the type of person, if you push a little too hard, you’re not going to like what happens.”
Londrigan distributed to reporters campaign finance reports that showed Gooch has received $25,000 worth of contributions from the coal industry since 1997. He also produced documents that he said show Gooch has private business with the coal industry.
The labor leader said he distributed the documents about Gooch “to move the bill and get a fair hearing.
“We don’t see the bill moving unless some real strong action is taken and we don’t see that coming about. That’s why we are here, and that’s why we are turning up the heat.”
Of his business with the coal industry, Gooch, who is an insurance agent, said, “I don’t think you can have anyone that’s in the coalfields that’s in business that somehow doesn’t do business with some coal company.”
He said he passed three mine-safety bills out of his committee last year.
The bill under consideration this year “has been written by an attorney who makes his business suing coal companies. That’s the real conflict of interest,” Gooch said.
“It would be a farce if this committee allowed someone like that to write legislation to benefit his own pocket. I’m not going to do that.”
Gooch said he was referring to Tony Oppegard, an attorney and mine safety advocate.
Oppegard, who participated in yesterday’s rally for HB 207, said he helped draft the bill. “It’s not unusual for the coal industry to draft parts of bills. That’s part of the legislative process.”
Oppegard added that the key provisions in the bill “have nothing to do with filing lawsuits. They have to do with mine safety.”
The bill, among other things, would require at least two mine emergency technicians on every working shift who must be underground at all times when miners are working in the mine, increase the number of safety inspections of mines from three to six a year in 2009, and allow spouses of miners killed in mine accidents to intervene in disciplinary proceedings before the state Mine Safety Review Commission.
House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said in a statement that he supports the mine safety legislation and it “appears to be moving along pretty well.”
Natural Resources Commissioner Susan Bush said lawmakers need to appropriate money to cover the cost of implementing the bill.
Besides attracting a crowd of miners and their family members, the rally participants included Jefferson County’s Irv Maze, who is running for lieutenant governor with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Miller. He said he supported the bill.