A Washington state representative has introduced a bill in response to fines levied against the city of Pullman for violations that occurred during an April flood rescue.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is proposing House Bill 2585, which would give the director of the Department of Labor and Industries more power to waive or modify penalties.
Washington Labor and Industries fined Pullman $2,700 for safety violations that occurred during the city’s efforts to rescue 22 people from the April 9 flood on North Grand Avenue. The city’s finance department has paid the fines after the city determined it would not appeal.
All the fines were in part related to firefighters using a front-end loader to rescue people trapped by the floodwaters. The city was also penalized because firefighters did not use correct safety devices and safeguards, such as appropriate attire, boots, helmets or flotation devices. Schmick has been vocal about his displeasure with the fines he believes are unfair to the firefighters.
In a news release published Wednesday, Schmick stated that after speaking to Labor and Industries, he found that once a complaint has been filed with the department and evidence of violations are found, a fine must be levied. Schmick stated that even the director of Labor and Industries cannot overrule a fine.
According to the language of HB 2585, the legislation would give the director that power if “Immediate action was required to be taken due to imminent danger of loss of life or serious injury; and no other practical option was immediately available.”
Schmick said in the news release that his legislation “provides some practical oversight and accountability to the department so hopefully we can avoid these situations in the future.” Schmick’s efforts have the support of Pullman government officials.
“(Schmick) asked if it was alright with us and we said, ‘certainly,’ ” Mayor Glenn Johnson said. “I really support what he is doing.”
Johnson said he agrees with Schmick that the fines were unfair, given that Pullman firefighters may have saved lives with their efforts April 9.
Johnson has offered to continue helping Schmick.
“If he ever needs us to testify over in Olympia, we’ll be there to support him,” Johnson said.
State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, represents the 9th Legislative District and supports Schmick’s efforts. Schoesler said he joined the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which oversees Labor and Industries, in part because of his frustration with the department.
“I’ve been very concerned over my career that L and I has been really hostile to business, government and others trying to make a living in my district,” he said.
He said if a companion bill comes up in the Senate, he will do what he can to help it pass.
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