A Republican-backed bill is being pushed through the House Judiciary Committee to make it harder for victims of asbestos to seek fair compensation. The mission of the bill is ostensibly to end abuse and fraud in asbestos based lawsuits.
It has been supported along the way by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Not unlike last year’s series of ALEC-supported Voter ID laws (which are springing back in action thanks to the Supreme Court’s total botch of a decision this week), this law seeks to solve a problem that does not really exist. In fact, in many ways this bill’s main focus is to let companies who knowingly expose workers to the dangers of asbestos off the hook for large sums of damages. It creates a problem.
The New York Times recently ran a poignant editorial about this: “One-sided bill on Asbestos Injuries”:
The Republican bill, known as the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT) of 2013, would allow asbestos companies to demand information from the trusts for virtually any reason, forcing the trusts to devote limited resources to responding to fishing expeditions that will slow the process of paying claims.
The bill would also increase the burden on claimants to supply information. But it puts virtually no burdens on asbestos companies, like disclosing the settlements they have reached with plaintiffs or requiring them to reveal where their products were used and when, so that workers know which companies or trusts might be liable for their injuries.
During the hearing, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. John Conyers, said of FACT that it “will allow asbestos victims to be re-victimized by exposing their health information to the public.”
Not surprisingly, this bill looks strikingly similar to model legislation put forth by ALEC on behalf of big businesses. Poptort has written about the contents of an anti-victim Ohio bill and its similarities to FACT. A quick look at the roll call vote of the Judiciary Committee shows that four of the 17 yea votes (Reps. Coble, Bachus, Jordan, Labrador) were cast by ALEC alumni:
In an early June article about the dangers of FACT, the Environmental Working Group pointed to ALEC as a main supporter of this legislation:
The proposal, authored by Rep. Benjamin Quayle (R-Ariz) with the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the industry-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC would place new burdens on asbestos trusts, which exist solely to compensate present and future victims of asbestos disease. The Quayle bill would allow companies responsible for these trusts to squander their assets, force victims to submit mountains of information and even deny compensation to victims. In short, the bill is designed to swamp the claims process with paperwork so that victims seeking compensation may never collect.
The New York Times is on the right side of history (and safety) here. But their piece leaves out the entire history of the bill and its corporate lobbyist origins. That is vital in understanding its intent and its inherent illegitimacy.