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Lawmakers meet again after delay from chemical spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A chemical spill kept lawmakers from conducting normal business Friday, but state senators and many delegates returned to work Monday.

The Senate met in a brief session Monday afternoon, where two bills were introduced. They also had a Senate Finance Committee hearing to discuss the budget for the state Supreme Court. The Senate plans to begin with business as usual at 11 a.m. today, said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.

The state House of Delegates met for a few minutes and adjourned again until 6 p.m. There were no committee meetings.

As much as 7,500 gallons of a chemical leaked Thursday morning through a storage container, with an unknown amount making its way into the Elk River. It contaminated the water of 300,000 West Virginians, although some were gradually able to start flushing their pipe systems Monday afternoon.

State employees who staff the state Capitol had to report to work Monday, confirmed Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

"I speak for the governor's office, and I speak for what we do here, not for the House and Senate," she said, when asked about the Senate and House schedules on Monday.

Although the workload was sparse, Kessler said he thought it was important to reconvene.

"I asked the governor if state employees were going to be working in the affected areas and if our state employees were coming to work, doggone it, so should their representatives," Kessler said.

"As long as there was no shelter in place and state employees were required to come to work, I thought it was important for us to show we were going to be here as well not only symbolically, but so we could get some work done."

The House of Delegates met for a few minutes Monday afternoon but adjourned until 6 p.m. tonight. About 40 delegates attended Monday afternoon's brief session.

The first focus at this time should be on safety, said House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison. But he said there were also concerns about finding enough places for lawmakers to stay.

"It's different to have employees be required to show up at work who reside here in the area than those who don't reside in the area who have to come down here and try to find places to live," Miley said.

He said it was his understanding that a number of downtown hotels where delegates stay were not open. Miley said he and other members of the House might need to look for alternative places to stay, but they're going to proceed with normal business this evening.

Miley said he spoke with management at the downtown Marriott and Residence Inn. It takes a long time to get a large hotel back online: Flushing a large building, all the machines that use water, and doing all the necessary laundry isn't a quick process.

"Suffering an inconvenience is not very much to ask when the people of this affected area have suffered far greater than that," Miley said.

Kessler said the Senate was able to find rooms for its members.

"Everyone was able to get here," Kessler said.

"There was some juggling of hotel rooms that needed to be taken care of, but we were able to locate 60 rooms or so that would be available (Monday). So we decided to come in and business as usual."

Miley pledged that no work would be missed. He said committees might have to meet for longer, later in the day or on weekends, but everything that needs to get done will get done.

"You know, people can draw their own conclusions. We're coming back (this) evening ready to resume business as usual, with committee meetings followed by a floor session."

Capitol Reporter Whitney Burdette contributed to this report.

Contact Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv. com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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