The House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections has passed three amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act on three party-line votes, with all the Republicans on the committee voting in favor of the amendments and all the Democrats voting against them.

The amendments will be considered in September by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where again they are expected to pass on party-line votes. None of the measures has been introduced in the Senate, and opponents of the measures are hopeful that the bills will die for lack of any action by the Senate.

The three measures that passed had all been part of a larger bill that was introduced by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) in April. After holding a hearing on the single bill in June, Norwood rewrote the legislation as four narrower measures, each of which would amend a single aspect of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

One of the measures that passed (H.R. 2728) would extend the time period allowed for an employer to challenge an OSHA citation. Now an employer has 15 days to file a contest to a citation. If the bill becomes law, an employer who misses the 15-day deadline can claim that the delay was the result of "mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect."

The second bill that passed in the subcommittee (H.R. 2729) would expand the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission from three members appointed by the President to five, and would allow the President to extend the terms of any of the Commission members by an indefinite period that could be as long as the President remains in office. The immediate effect: Bush administration appointees would comprise an absolute majority on the Commission, which decides on the validity of OSHA citations and penalties.

The third bill that passed (H.R.2730) would shift the balance of power in legal proceedings from the Secretary of Labor to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Such a move would be significant if the Review Commission disagreed with OSHA about the validity of a citation. Now, if OSHA loses a case before the Review Commission, it can appeal to a federal court, and the court is legally required to give "deference" to the Labor Department's position on legal questions. If the bill passes, the courts would be required to give that deference to the Review Commission instead.