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Miner Widows Rally In Frankfort

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Widows of dead coal miners rallied Wednesday at the Capitol alongside miners and labor supporters to push legislation they claim would strengthen safety laws for those working underground.

Proponents urged House lawmakers to have a swift committee vote that would get the mine safety legislation to the House floor.

They say the legislation would save lives by imposing more stringent safety requirements on coal mine operators.

"We need this bill passed," said Melissa Lee, whose husband Jimmy Lee was killed in the Kentucky Darby Mine explosion last year. "This has to be something that protects the other men who are providing for their families."

With the 2007 General Assembly session half over, the legislation has not yet come up for a committee vote.

It would, among other things, require more frequent mine inspections and
require coal companies to supply miners with methane detectors.

The proposal would also allow people to attend investigation interviews on behalf of any miners killed in on-the-job accidents.

But Bill Londrigan, head of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, said he doubted whether the proposal would get a fair hearing before the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Jim Gooch. Londrigan claimed Gooch, D-Providence, has so far not allowed the panel to vote on the bill because of his ties to the coal industry.

"He is the coal industry," Londrigan said of Gooch.

But Gooch called the proposal a "work in progress" and said it could possibly get called for a vote.

He denied stalling the bill because of any coal industry ties.

"I resent any kind of implication that because of some business ties that I may have that I will vote a certain way - that's not the way I'm going to do it," Gooch said. "I'm going to do my
job."

Gooch's committee was scheduled to meet on Thursday, and the bill was listed as one the panel might consider.

The legislation follows one of the deadliest years in recent history for coal miners in Kentucky. In all, 16 miners were killed on the job in 2006.

Five of the deaths were from a single Harlan County underground mine explosion in May.

State law now requires more oxygen supplies to be stored along underground escape routes in case of emergency, better communications between the surface and underground work areas and a directional cord or lifeline to make it easier for miners to find
their way to exits.

Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said he wanted lawmakers to vote on the bill.

"By not giving them a hearing on the issue, I do not think they
are being treated fairly," Yonts said. "This is too important an
issue when we have 16 people killed in this state over the last
year."

Nevertheless, Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said it was uncertain whether the miners who died last year would have survived had the current proposal been on the
books.

Recent safety enhancements that have become law need time to show whether additional action is needed, Caylor said.

"I don't see anything in this that would have saved those lives," Caylor said. "And I'm not trying to be cold or callous.

It's just, I don't see what was in that that would have saved a life."
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The legislation is House Bill 207.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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