Debate surrounds lawmaker’s advancement of bill seeking to outlaw practice of ‘rolling coal’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on Tuesday, debated the merits of their substitute for SB 436, a bill which seeks to prohibit intentional vehicle modifications which allow for participation in a practice known as “rolling coal.”

“The short title doesn’t reflect quite what the committee substitute does,” Committee Counsel Marey Casey explained to committee members. “The bill creates a new section of traffic code that makes it unlawful for any driver on a highway to operate a motor vehicle that has been intentionally modified to cause smoke or other visible emissions, if such emission either obstructs or obscures the view of any person participating in traffic, or creates a hazard to any person.”

Introduced by Sen. Jack David Woodrum, the intent of SB 436 is to both mitigate air pollution, and reduce roadway safety hazards. 

“The bill does not relate only to additives to diesel fuel, but to any type of modification (which create smoke or other visible emissions),” Casey added. 

At the conclusion of Casey’s explanation, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, verbalized his disapproval with the committee substitute, saying, “This is the same bill, but now we’ve cleaned it up so that you can’t get around it at all.”

“Have we had anybody talking about what an attack this is on coal supporters?” Karnes asked. “We’re just gonna roll with this anti-rolling-coal bill which just seems to be a straight-up attack on our coal industry, and the miners that support it?”

Karnes acknowledged that as committee counsel, Casey was not the appropriate person to direct his questions toward, before turning his attention to Committee Chair Charles Clements, R-Wetzel.

“Mr. Chairman, I have a feeling it’s gonna just blow through here,” Karnes said. “But I would like to request a roll call on this because I would like it to be on the record that I’m not doing it.”

After a question from Sen. Glenn Jeffries, R-Putnam, Casey clarified that, under the terms of the bill, intent to introduce “smoke or other particulates into the air” must be proven in order for an offender to be found guilty of a violation. 

Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, then asked Karnes directly to explain why he believes SB 436 to be an “anti-rolling-coal” bill, to which Karnes replied, “If you’ve ever seen, without being too vulgar, where people hang something from the hitch on their truck, with maybe a couple of balls in a sack – it’s a political statement. Well this is a political statement.”

“People who want to show support for the coal industry do this thing to their truck, so that if they want to, they can do what’s called ‘rolling coal,’” Karnes continued. “It’s the black cloud of smoke that you sometimes see come out of a truck. It’s like a statement of support for the coal industry.”

“So to me, this is an attack on people who support our coal industry,” Karnes added. “There are no other reasons why people roll coal. It’s a statement of support for our coal industry.”

After Sen. Chandler Swope raised the question of driver liability, Stuart questioned Casey about the penalties for violating the terms of the bill.

“It would be a misdemeanor for the first conviction,” Casey advised, “Punishable by a fine of not more than $100, or by imprisonment of not more than 10 days.”

Casey further noted that two additional violations within a period of one year would see penalties increase to a fine of not more than $500, and imprisonment for not more than six months. 

“That was a lot longer than I was expecting the penalties would be,” Stuart said.

An amendment to remove jail time as a penalty, proposed by Swope, was adopted by the committee. However, an amendment to grandfather vehicles modified before the new law would take effect, proposed by Karnes, was not.

“We are the Senate Transportation Committee,” said. Sen. Michael Oliverio, R-Monongalia. “It is our responsibility to create a safe driving environment for the citizens of our state and those that would choose to come visit. This bill is a step forward in making our state a safer place to operate an automobile.”

“It creates a way of discontinuing a practice by whoever, or for whatever reason, that jeopardizes the line of sight and the view of the driver,” Oliverio continued. “If it comes down to allowing this amendment, we’re really undermining this safety effort that we’re embarking on.”

“If given a voice of voting for a mom driving a minivan full of kids into a black cloud in which she can’t see, or outlawing that practice, I’m on the side of outlawing that practice,” Oliverio added. 

As previously promised, Karnes demanded the vote be taken by roll-call. The committee substitute for SB 436 was adopted by a vote of eight to one, with only Karnes voting against. The bill will now be forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of SB 436 as additional information is made available. 

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