Hatch/Frist Asbestos Bailout Bill Stalled in Senate

Funding Well Below Estimates to Fairly Compensate Those With Asbestos Diseases

WASHINGTON, D.C.-April 27, 2004-The United States Senate failed to pass a cloture motion that would have allowed the Hatch/Frist asbestos bill, S.B. 2290, to move forward. S.B. 2290 would compensate asbestos victims through a national trust fund, but deprive them of their day in court.

Democrats and organized labor say that the trust fund would be inadequate, and predict that it would run out of money, leaving many asbestos victims with no options. The latest proposed funding amount, estimated at around $123-124 billion, is about $30 billion below the amount proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year under a similar bill. It is also well below labor groups' estimates of what is needed to compensate those with asbestos-related diseases.

S.B. 2290 would assign dollar values to different categories of asbestos diseases ranging from asbestosis to the cancer mesothelioma. However, these amounts are much less than what has been available through the court system and may not be enough to cover the medical expenses, financial losses, and suffering of asbestos victims and their families. Even more disturbing, those who have pending asbestos settlements would not be able to collect on them. Instead, they would be forced to begin the process of going through an unwieldy bureaucracy in order to obtain compensation.

"After listening to victims, hearing their stories, and looking them in the eye, there is no way I could vote for this inadequate and unbalanced bill," Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said about S.B. 2290. "Many people who have had their lives torn apart by asbestos will actually do worse under this bill than they would in court" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 23, 2004). Sen. Murray came out against S.B. 2290, even though it includes a ban on asbestos production in the United States, a cause that she has been championing for several years. She said that the flaws in S.B. 2290 negated any good from the asbestos ban.

The Fight Against S.B. 2290 is Not Over Yet

At Brayton Purcell, we have fought long and hard against S.B. 2290 and its predecessor bill, S.B. 1125. Unfortunately, this type of legislation is not dead yet. Sen. Frist will be putting together a compromise asbestos bill, with an eye towards introducing it again in the fall. According to one report, Sen. Frist will meet with Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and a mediator, Federal Appeal Judge Edward Becker, this week to discuss the asbestos issue (Baltimore Sun, April 23). Any agreement is not binding.