Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Miners win black lung legislation



The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Legislation to make it easier for coal miners to win claims for black lung disease, but which emphasizes education and retraining instead of cash payments, won final passage Monday.

        The Kentucky House, which originated the bill, agreed to a Senate version and passed it 96-0.

        “There's not a piece of legislation more important to my district,” Rep. Howard Cornett, R-Whitesburg, said in a speech to his colleagues.

        Under the bill, a miner with any X-ray evidence of black lung — even with no breathing impairment — would be eligible for retraining benefits worth nearly $65,000 over four years.

        The legislation had the support of both the coal industry and labor, which fought each other on the issue for three straight legislative sessions.

        The Senate declined to pass previous bills. This year, the Republican majority appears to be counting on it to help Rep. Johnnie Turner, R-Harlan, unseat Democratic Sen. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard.

        The bill would loosen restrictions on black-lung claims that were enacted in 1996 at Gov. Paul Patton's request. Patton said at the time that the claims system was “out of control.” He later said the restrictions went too far. The Department of Workers' Claims disclosed last fall that it was approving about one claim in 90.

        The new legislation emphasizes education for younger miners — from basic literacy to college classes — and offers cash rewards for completion. Miners age 57 and older could take cash instead of retraining benefits.

        ———

        The legislation is House Bill 348.

       



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- Miners win black lung legislation
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