W. Va. senators move to 2010 Mine Act by unanimous consent

In a surprise move on Sept. 28, West Virginia Democratic senators John Rockefeller and Carte Goodwin attempted to move the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act of 2010 by unanimous consent, according to a Special Legislative Update from the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA).

The rest of the Special Legislative Update from NSSGA follows:

Such a maneuver on the Senate floor is a bit unusual in this situation, because the committee of jurisdiction for this bill is not close to having agreed to, or marked-up, a bill. Rockefeller said that he was frustrated that there was no agreement on a bipartisan mine safety bill. He ticked off items included in the bill and then highlighted what he considered the chief objections of opponents to the bill including: inclusion of OSHA reforms which opponents consider over-reaching; giving MSHA subpoena power; and extending whistleblower protections.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), senior Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, objected to the unanimous consent request saying that he felt negotiations were progressing on a bipartisan bill until talks were cut off last week. He expressed disappointment that Rockefeller would attempt to move a purely partisan bill commenting that the Republicans had not been asked into talks until two weeks prior to the August recess.

Rockefeller responded that while he did not question Enzi’s commitment to miner safety, the MINER Act, which passed when Sen. Enzi was chairman of the HELP Committee, did not go far enough. He said that HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, had introduced S. 3671 as a benchmark. Rockefeller added that bi-partisan talks had not been called off and expressed optimism that they could continue and agreement reached on a bipartisan mine safety bill.

Sen. Rockefeller’s move came after the stir he created last week by announcing that staff negotiations on a mine safety bill had broken down because Republican staff would not accept any of the Democratic proposals, the NSSGA reports. The announcement resulted in the cancellation of a negotiating session and a postponement of any additional meetings of the staff working group until after the elections.

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Subsequently, Sen. Enzi took to the Senate floor on Sept. 23 to say that in fact the staff working group was making progress and suggested there were 14 proposals on which the working group had agreed and another seven waiting to see if there was agreement. He said that five or six would have to be decided by the senators themselves. When queried, Enzi staff told NSSGA that agreements reached were not on issues about which NSSGA and its ad hoc mine safety group had expressed concern. Enzi called for passage of legislation on a bipartisan basis and said that he felt that agreement could be reached after the elections, suggesting mine safety legislation could be considered in a lame duck congressional session

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) staff told NSSGA and its ad hoc mine safety partners last week when asked if a mine safety bill was likely to come up in a lame duck session that there were many items on the lame duck agenda, indicating it was unlikely. The timing of Rockefeller’s move also is considered political designed to provide an assist to Democratic candidates in West Virginia who are facing very tough elections.