Kentucky Mine Bill Would Allow State to Issue Fines for Violations

Days after a state mine safety bill received approval from the Kentucky House of Representatives, the state Senate passed a measure that would require state inspectors to visit every Kentucky coal mine at least three times a year.

The legislation also would require breathing devices to be stored in mine shafts and, for the first time, would allow the state to fine coal companies for safety violations.

As a result of the recent spate of mine deaths, Kentucky lawmakers included mine safety as part of their legislative agenda. Last year, Kentucky led the nation in the number of mine deaths, with eight people killed on the job, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher is expected to sign the bill into law, a spokesperson said.

When the bill received House approval on March 22 (See "Kentucky House Approves Mine Safety Bill"), LaJuana Wilcher, secretary of the state's Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, expressed concern about adding extra inspections, as she said they would not be able to find qualified foremen who were willing to take a pay cut to work for the state.

Wilcher asked legislative leaders for funding to pay for about 15 additional mine inspectors. Those inspectors would be needed to conduct the additional inspections of the state's 600 active mines, at a cost that would exceed $250,000 a year, she said.

Another bill, which was passed by the state Senate, made Kentucky the first coal-mining state to require drug and alcohol testing for miners. In a statement, Fletcher noted that it was important for all miners to be alert at all times while at the mines and that the bill would "provide the necessary protection all so rightly deserve."

The measure requires that miners be screened before they are hired and then randomly tested after they start to work.

West Virginia was the first state to introduce a mine safety measure into law in response to this year's mining deaths. Other states looking to enact tougher mine safety requirements include Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Alabama, according to the National Mining Association.

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