CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Senate leaders are concerned the House of Delegates might delay or split apart the bill crafted in response to the recent Elk River chemical spill.
The bill, which calls for increased scrutiny of aboveground chemical storage facilities, passed a unanimous Senate on Tuesday. The House must now review and pass it before Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin can sign it into law.
After receiving the bill from the Senate, House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, assigned three committees -- the Health and Human Resources, Judiciary and Finance committees -- to review and sign off on the bill before it can go before the full House for a vote.
However, this so-called "triple reference" is often considered a kiss of death for legislation.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said they were surprised to see it.
Kessler said a triple reference is typically a "death knell" for a bill. Unger expressed similar concerns.
Miley said he spoke Thursday with Kessler to assure him the House is committed to passing effective legislation. While Miley acknowledged the triple reference's traditional use, he said he's using it in this case to ensure a "thorough and deliberative review" of the measure.
"I don't play games," Miley said. "If there's a bill the House is not going to consider, we don't need to triple reference it to get the message out there we're not going to consider it."
The House typically doesn't start working on Senate bills until much later in the session to meet internal legislative deadlines. The Legislature's rules require bills be passed by their house of origin by the 50th day of the legislative session, so the House and Senate usually focus on their own bills before moving on to those sent over by the other.
Kessler said he would give Miley "the benefit of the doubt." Unger agreed and said he did not think Miley was trying to completely derail the bill.
However, when the Senate received several bills passed by the House on Thursday, Kessler decided to triple reference two of them.
Was it a reaction to Miley's decision?
"Oh, I don't think so," Kessler said. "We just thought they needed a good, thorough review as well."
As passed by the Senate, Senate Bill 373 creates guidelines regulating aboveground storage tanks. It also outlines a framework to increase emergency preparedness in the event a spill similar to the one that occurred Jan. 9 at Freedom Industries happens again.
The bill is slated to go to the House Health and Human Resources Committee first, followed then by the Judiciary and Finance committees.
"Our whole goal is to make sure we get out a good piece of legislation that is not a result of overreacting," Miley said.
"Sometimes when you overreact, you do a couple of things: you miss and fail to address the areas of critical need, but sometimes you also over-regulate as well."
Unger, who is the lead sponsor of the Senate bill, questioned whether Miley and the House had an appropriate sense of urgency. He said he welcomes productive changes and suggestions from the House, but thinks action is needed as soon as possible to prevent another spill.
"When a person walks in to the emergency room, and has a bullet wound and they're bleeding to death, you don't sit there and do a thorough review of 'How in the world did they get bleeding?'" Unger said.
"No, you treat the wound, you patch it up, you close that loophole -- then you start looking at the other aspects of it.
"We have a bullet wound here," Unger said. "It's bleeding. It's a definite, gaping hole in our system that we need to close quickly in order so that this doesn't happen again."
Unger pointed to a recent move by the House to speed consideration of a bill that provides assistance to small businesses affected by the water outage. He said the House should be able to finish its work on the storage tank bill and pass it by the end of next week.
That's unlikely to happen.
"I don't know that we will get it out as quickly as the Senate did," Miley said.