Labor Blasts Asbestos Bill

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Washington

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Organized labor warned U.S. senators in a letter last week thatit could not support an asbestos litigation bill that does notinclude a trust funda position that puts the AFL-CIO and itsDemocratic backers at odds with defendants and insurers, which ineffect might kill reform in this Congress.

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Meanwhile, efforts by the Senate Judiciary Committees chairman,Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to strike a compromise with Democrats onthe bill has been jeopardized by the success of some Republicancommittee members in delaying its introduction. The delay wasachieved by asking Senate Majority Leader William Frist, R-Tenn.,to intervene and tell Sen. Specter to hold off.

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Sen. Frists request for a delay undermined Sen. Specters effortsto build momentum for his bill by adding language acceptable tocommittee Democratsespecially Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, theranking minority member. It was the provisions that Sen. Spectersupported at the request of Sen. Leahy that forced defendant andindustry groups to ask Sen. Frist and other Republican members ofthe panel to push Sen. Specter to delay his bill.

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Specifically, these provisions included calls for a $140 billiontrust to be seeded over 27.5 years by industry and insurers, aswell as language that said all claims accepted by the alternativeclaims-processing system established by the bill would revert tothe tort system at any point the fund couldnt pay claims for sixmonths. The insurance industry also opposed changes by Sen. Specterto a bill drafted last year that would have front-loaded theindustrys contributions to the trust fund.

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The AFL-CIO letter said the labor group is “deeply disturbed bythe statements of some senators and some business and insurancegroups calling for reopening agreements reached in the lastCongress or returning to the terms of [a prior bill] as thelegislative vehicle for consideration.”

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The AFL-CIO said it would “strongly oppose any attempt to pushthrough, on a partisan basis, legislation whose main purpose is tobail out companies at the expense of victims.”

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At the same time, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texasthe JudiciaryCommittee member who has been most receptive to arguments fromdefendants and insurerstold Congress Daily he is reachingout to Democrats and Republicans to fashion a bill.
“We're trying to get everything side by side and let peopleunderstand what the options are,” he
said. “We're trying to narrow the issues.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, February 18, 2005.Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serialpublication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as anindependent work may be held by the author.


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