By Mannix Porterfield
Multiple invasions by demonstrators protesting strip mine operations in southern West Virginia in recent years inspired a legislative call Friday for heightened penalties against trespassers.
One of the co-sponsors of SB488, freshman Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, said the measure came in response to mass sit-ins on mine properties in several counties in protest of mountaintop mining practices.
“Stopped production on a mine site adds up to large losses,” Hall said.
“This is not only a safety issue, but also an economic issue.”
The bill’s intent is to provide additional protection against property offenses, not only at mine operations, but other industrial sites.
Over the past few years, several mining operations have been targeted for demonstrations, some of which found protesters occupying branches of trees overnight.
Anyone entering a mine site without prior approval who stays there is guilty of a misdemeanor under terms of the bill, and can be fined between $500 and $1,000, and could be required to perform 24 hours in a community corrections program for the first and subsequent violations.
Protesters who remove, destroy, injure or deface any real or personal property at a mine or other industrial site are risking more severe punishment.
The bill stipulates such offenses are felonies, exposing the guilty to a prison term of one to three years, and a fine ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.
In addition, anyone convicted of such crimes would be required to pay for the full replacement or repair of the property. And, once released from prison, the guilty would face a mandatory 100 hours in a community corrections program.
Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, is the lead sponsor. Other co-sponsors are Sens. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, and Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan.
The bill was double referenced, first to the Energy, Industry and Mining Committee, and then to the Judiciary Committee.
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