orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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May 2, 2013

Authorities: Texas blast probe may be done May 10

AUSTIN, Texas — An investigation should be finished within the next two weeks into what caused a massive explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant that killed 14 people, state authorities said Wednesday.

Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy told lawmakers during a legislative hearing that his office is targeting May 10 for investigators to complete their probe into the origin and cause of the fire and explosion at West Fertilizer Co. Authorities have not hinted what might have caused the blast April 17 in the rural farming town of West.

Most of the dead were firefighters and paramedics, and about 200 other people were injured.

"We literally have to sift through all the soil — all the items that exploded out of the plant, collect those, try to reconstruct the facility," Connealy said. "We are well down that path. But (May 10) is an approximate date. Don't hold us to that."

Connealy raised the possibility that authorities might never uncover the cause, but expressed hope that a team of 80 investigators that have conducted 300 interviews would make a determination.

"Everything will be touched. It will be analyzed and it will be looked at," he said.

Connealy said investigators are combing through a 14.9-acre area and compared the work to an archaeological dig. He said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has so far spent $500,000 on the investigation and expects that price tag to double.

Lawmakers advance penalties for wage theft

AUSTIN (AP) — Employers would be fined for stealing wages from workers under a bill advancing in the Texas Legislature.

The House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development advanced the proposal in a 6-2 vote on Wednesday. Though the bill has cleared the Senate, the negative votes indicate it may be subject to debate in the House.

Under current law, the Texas Workforce Commission can penalize companies that withhold wages in "bad faith." But it issued penalties in less than 12 percent of the 1,028 cases last year.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso would define acts of bad faith to include repeat offenses, retaliation against workers, reckless disregard of the law and failure to pay multiple workers. It would require fines of up to $1,000.

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