A grieving mother's personal appeal helped to push higher job-safetyfines through the General Assembly Monday.
"This is a good thing and, hopefully, another family will be spared this (pain)," said Joan Para, whose 21-year-old son died in a job-related accident March 19.
Para, secretary to Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore, waged a personal crusade to resurrect a bill that substantially increases the maximum penalties the state can levy for occupational safety violations.
The Senate Finance Committee had defeated the bill thesame week that a 12-foot-deep trench collapsed on Para's son. Brian James Para had been laying sewer and water pipes to a Crofton Village home when he was buried alive and suffocated.
A preliminary stateinvestigation shows proper safeguards against a cave-in had not beentaken in the trench.
The Senate panel had feared the severe penalties contained in the bill could hurt industry unnecessarily. But, under pressure from Para, Miedusiewski and the state Division of Labor and Industry, the committee reversed its position Friday.
Finance member Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale, said the panel agreed to a compromise that protects companies that take precautions from unfair penalties.
"It made the bill palatable to the pro-business people without sacrificing the penalties," Miedusiewski said.
The amended bill sailed through the full Senate over the weekend and passed the House of Delegates on Monday night. The bill, which awaits action by the governor, would increase penalties from $1,000 to $7,000 per safety violation and from $10,000 to $70,000 for repeat offenders.
"It's amemorial to Brian, really," Para said yesterday. "Because people know me, it made it a personal tragedy, and not just another statistic."
"You have no idea how happy that (bill's passage) makes me," saidKaren McAlpin, Brian's girlfriend. "This is the first consolation we've had.
"It probably won't stop them all from going down into those unsafe holes, but it might make the company think twice before asking them to," McAlpin said. "That might help someone else. I know Brian would like that."
The state Division of Labor and Industry requested the higher penalties to bring its occupational safety program into compliance with new federal rules adopted last fall. If the statehad not complied, it could have lost $3.5 million in federal aid used to operate the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office.
MOSH officials also said job safety violations were on the rise in Maryland because the penalties, originally set in 1973, were too low.
"We're delighted that the bill passed," said Ileana O'Brien, state deputy commissioner of labor and industry. "I think the family's involvement was instrumental. I think it's wonderful they took such a positive approach to their son's death."