Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has dropped the idea of returning the state's OSHA program to federal regulators. The issue had become a political hot potato, with labor unions, national societies like the American Industrial Hygiene Association, and a number of state lawmakers weighing in against the move.

Pawlenty's administration had argued the move would not hurt safety regulation, although the state enforces several standards more strict than federal OSHA's, such as permissible exposure limits. Bottom line: the proposal was estimated to save the state $931,000 annually beginning in 2005.

But controversy hit last week, when Pawlenty's appointee for state labor commissioner, Jane Volz, resigned at his request over Volz's admission she failed to pay mandatory workers' compensation insurance at her law firm. A number of lawmakers and labor officials said that a closer look at Pawlenty's choice for labor commissioner made them suspect she might have an agenda to weaken or eliminate labor regulations, including eliminating Minnesota's state-administered OSHA and handing it back to the feds.

Opponents of the move also argued that the state finance commissioner was wrong when he claimed that Wisconsin (a federal program) had lower injury rates than Minnesota, and critics claimed there would be no actual budget saving.

It's tough to kill off a state OSHA program. The new Republican administration in Vermont floated the same idea, and employers helped sink it.

California tried the Washington hand-off under former Governor Deukmajian, but Cal-OSHA remains one of the more respected state OSHA programs.