Senate Panel Reaches Deal on Asbestos Compensation Bill
Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday reached a compromise that would make it easier for people who have asbestos-related illnesses to qualify for compensation from a proposed trust fund, the New York Times reports (Berenson, New York Times, 6/25). The bill (S 1125), drafted by Judiciary Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would establish a 25-year, $108 billion trust fund to compensate individuals with asbestos-related illnesses, and it would limit business liability for the illnesses (California Healthline, 5/23). The compromise, reached by Hatch and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's ranking minority member, eliminated the proposed 1982 cutoff date for victims. Further, the agreement added two disease categories that would qualify for compensation, raising the total to 10. Hatch and Leahy also agreed to create a board to hear appeals from people who do not qualify under the established criteria (New York Times, 6/25). The committee also approved compromises that would connect compensation levels to the rate of inflation and increase from two to four years the time workers would have to file a claim following the diagnosis of a qualifying illness. An amendment approved yesterday would eliminate language in the original bill that would decrease compensation awards by the amounts that people with asbestos-related illnesses received from other sources, including life and medical insurance (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/25). In addition, a proposal in the original legislation to create a U.S. Court of Asbestos Claims was dropped after Leahy said that setting up the court system would be "burdensome" and would hinder timely compensation, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 6/24).
Passage of the bill remains uncertain amid opposition from insurers, businesses, unions and Democrats, the Times reports. AFL-CIO general counsel Jon Hiatt said the compromise addressed his group's concerns over medical criteria, but added that labor could not support the legislation unless payments from the compensation fund were increased and unless there was a guarantee the fund would not run out of money (New York Times, 6/25). Labor groups have said that they have enough support from Democrats to keep Republicans from gathering the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill. While Hatch said he wants the Judiciary Committee to finish work on the bill by the end of the week and send it to the full Senate, the panel has postponed further consideration until tomorrow to allow time to resolve differences on how to extend the fund if it runs out of money (Bloomberg/Chicago Tribune, 6/25).
In related news, the Judiciary Committee yesterday approved an amendment to the asbestos bill that would ban most consumer uses of asbestos, CongressDaily/AM reports (CongressDaily/AM, 6/25). The bill would make the Environmental Protection Agency adopt rules within two years that would ban asbestos use in gaskets, vehicle brake linings and other products. However, use of asbestos would still be permitted in roofing sealants, chlorine manufacturing and other areas if they are shown not to cause harm to public health or the environment (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.