Senate panel continues plant explosions discussion

A Senate panel on Friday continued discussion of industrial insurance and workplace safety bills crafted in response to a series of industrial explosions that killed and maimed Nevada workers.

Lawmakers gutted SB9, which would have allowed workers to file civil lawsuits against both insured and uninsured companies if they were injured on the job. Such suits are only allowed if the employer knowingly violates workplace safety laws.

Businesses complained the plan unfairly exposed companies that follow industrial insurance laws. Uninsured companies can already be sued.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee instead proposed replacement language for the measure. The amended bill would make it a felony if an employer's knowing violation of safety laws leads directly to a worker death. That's now a misdemeanor.

The proposal from Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, would send convicted employers to state prison instead of county jail, and increase the maximum sentence from one year to four years.

It would also more than double fines for the crime, as in another bill that already passed the Senate. The panel chairman, Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, backed the change.

"This again is about employers who don't play by the rules not only putting the burden on other employers but also on employees," said Townsend, who is pushing a package of 11 bills on workplace safety and industrial insurance.

Carlton's proposal would also prohibit employers from negotiating in court for a lesser sentence, as in Nevada drunk-driving law.

"They need to be taken into court and told they were bad, it's time to go to jail," Carlton said.

The owner of a northern Nevada aerosol recycling plant was sentenced to 10 years' probation for skirting safety laws in a 2001 explosion that killed one worker and injured four others.

Walter Gonzalez also had to pay back $2 million in state costs after pleading no contest last October to two felony counts filed after the explosion at his Depressurized Technologies International in Minden.

Townsend called the light sentence "devastating."

"People died, people were injured, families were scarred for the rest of their lives, because of breaking the law," Townsend said. "I don't have any patience for that."

One employee died and two were injured in a separate 2001 explosion at the AeroTech model rocket factory in Las Vegas. Other industrial plant explosions have occurred in recent years in Henderson, Dayton, Las Vegas and Mustang east of Reno.

The new version of SB9 would duplicate fine hikes in SB8, which the Senate passed to the Assembly on Wednesday. The Senate could recommend that the Assembly kill the first measure, since SB9 effectively replaces it.


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