CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bill creating the new offense of mine trespass will be taken up by the full of the House of Delegates this week after gaining approval in the House Judiciary Committee back on Friday.
HB 2980, the Mine Trespass Act, establishes misdemeanor and felony offenses for trespassing in mines with associated criminal penalties. It’s creation is in response to several high-profile mine rescue cases from late last year. Three people were lost in a Raleigh County mine for a few days after they allegedly went in to steal copper.
“We’ve got a real problem down where I live we’re spending millions of dollars to try and combat this. This is a good bill,” Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said during Friday’s committee meeting.
But support for the bill wasn’t unanimous. Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said the threat of a trespassing charge isn’t going to stop anyone who is bent on going into an old mine.
“If somebody is desperate enough to risk their own life and the lives of others to steal copper and I would imagine to feed a habit, there is no deterrent to keep them from doing it,” Pushkin said. “Jails and prisons should be for people that we are afraid of not people we are mad at.”
Delegate Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, who is also an assistant prosecutor in Mingo County, said there are more than just the high-profile cases.
“What you don’t hear about are the five to six felonies we probably have every term from someone trying to steal from a coal company,” Brown said. “The problem is a lot more prevalent that what you’re seeing in the media.”
The bill lists various jail time for additional offenses and increasing fines.
Delegate Rodney Miller, a former Boone County sheriff, said the legislature can’t ignore the issue.
“There’s too much at risk to at least not try to combat this. Is this going to be a total fix for it? I don’t think anybody is naive enough to believe this is a total fix and is going to stop everything,” Miller said.
The bill has the support of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the West Virginia Coal Association and the United Mine Workers Union of America (UMWA).