Senate Judiciary Hearing to be Held on Asbestos Bill

Fund Too Small to Accommodate Individuals With Asbestos Diseases

WASHINGTON, DC — January 7, 2005 — Sen. Arlen Specter (R–PA) is continuing his attempt to quickly move an asbestos bill through Congress. A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the legislation will take place on January 11, although the list of speakers has not yet been announced. "It is my hope to be able to present a bill through markup at a very early date," Sen. Specter said. "Whether that can be done in late January or early February, frankly, remains to be seen" (Business Insurance Daily, January 5, 2004). He hopes to circulate draft copies before the hearing.

The proposed bill would create a national trust fund for asbestos victims, but deprive them of the right to a jury trial. Many who are about to have their asbestos casesresolved would be forced to begin the process of proving their claims once again, this time through the trust fund. The fund would assign dollar values to different types of asbestos–related diseases ranging from asbestosis to the cancer mesothelioma, although these amounts may be much less than what could be expected through the court system.

Labor groups and advocates for asbestos victims have argued that so far, the funding for the trust and the amounts assigned to each disease category are inadequate. News sources expect that Sen. Specter will propose a trust fund of about $140 billion, an amount agreed upon last year by both Sen. Bill Frist (R–TN) and former Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle (D–SD). The Senate Judiciary Committee had once suggested about $153 billion, Sen. Daschle had originally proposed $145 billion, and labor leaders sought much higher amounts.

Our attorneys worked hard for the defeat of last year's S.B. 2290, asbestos legislation upon which Sen. Specter's bill is based. We are concerned that the current bill also damages asbestos victims and their families and is little more than a bailout for asbestos–affiliated companies. We will continue to fight against any harmful asbestos bills, and to keep you informed of new legislative developments.