On a party-line 10-8 vote, a Senate labor committee approved Sen. Michael Enzi's job safety reform bill, Safety Advancement for Employees Act of 1999.
The SAFE Act would allow employers to receive a one-year exemption from OSHA civil penalties if they have their work sites reviewed by a private safety consultant.
In an effort to get the bill to the Senate floor, Enzi, R-Wyo., said he narrowed the focus of the legislation. On the way to the 10-8 vote, Republican members of the committee repeatedly turned away Democratic amendments designed to weaken the penalty exemption or to beef up workers' rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The bill's consultant inspection provision drew most of the panel's debate. GOP supporters claim the measure would provide employers an added incentive to voluntarily improve worker safety.
Democrats on the committee, though, argued the one-year exemption would allow employers to shield themselves from OSHA penalties by fixing only the hazards identified by the private consultant.
The Clinton administration has threatened to veto the measure if it is passed by Congress.