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Mine inspector dismisses bill aimed at making office appointed.

Byline: Carmen Forman and Ben Giles

Arizona is the only state in the country that still elects a mine inspector. A Democratic lawmaker wants to change that.

Rep. Randy Friese, the assistant minority leader in the House, proposed an amendment to Arizona's Constitution that would allow the governor to appoint a mine inspector, rather than have voters elect one every four years.

The Tucson Democrat said that the office would get more attention and critically, more funding if the governor had skin in the game by getting to choose the mine inspector.

"The mine inspector's office has a lot to do, and not a whole lot of resources," Friese said. "So I thought if the governor was given the opportunity to appoint someone with the enthusiasm and the skill set to make sure they get the funds to do what they need to do, that might get more attention to their budget."

Friese pointed out the Mine Inspector's Office is supposed to inspect every active mine every three months and every non-active one every year, but because of limited resources they aren't able to keep to that schedule.

The state has about 100,000 abandoned mines. Arizona has active coal, copper, gold and uranium mines.

Joe Hart, who was elected in 2018 to a fourth and final term as mine inspector, said there's no need for a change. He dismissed Friese's rationale for introducing the bill, saying nobody has been concerned about his office's lack of resources before.

"All the years I've been down there, I haven't heard anybody want to come help me," he said.

Hart, first elected to the office in 2006, doesn't dispute that the state Mine Inspector's Office is in need of more funding. In an August budget request to Gov. Doug Ducey, Hart wrote that the office needs at least three new employees to properly inspect and close abandoned mines, and noted that mine inspectors have been working for years without any budgetary increase.

There are only two inspectors in Arizona charged with supervising abandoned mines in the state, according to a Cronkite News report.

It's not the first time Friese has sought the change. He sponsored a similar measure in 2016, but the proposed amendment was never given a hearing.

Hart said he suspects those efforts are pushed by interests in the mining industry. Having an appointed mine inspector would make it easier for the unions to get someone friendly to mining interests in the office, he said.

"It's part of the Constitution that the mine inspector's going to be out from under pressure from the governor, the Legislature and everybody else," Hart said.

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Publication:Arizona Capitol Times
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Feb 1, 2019
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