Even as the battle over the asbestos industry bailout bill continues full steam ahead in the House, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO), the author of the bill, in an extraordinary April 4 colloquy on the floor of the Senate, declared the Senate version of the asbestos bill dead for the year.
This statement was closely followed by a report in the April 17 edition of Legal Times that the GAF Corporation -- the principal backer of the asbestos bill -- recently fired its lobbying staff. Two of the lobbyists say GAF's effort has been put on hold. One said, "They are taking their toys and going home." GAF General Counsel Richard Weinberg says the company hasn't given up, but may scale back its efforts. "We are evaluating where we are going," he said.
The House version of the measure, however, was favorably reported out of the Judiciary Committee by a narrow 17 to 16 margin (with bipartisan opposition). House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) has announced that he hopes to bring H.R. 1283, the "Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act," to the House floor late in May or sometime in June.
In the Senate on the night of April 4, Senator Ashcroft, chief sponsor of S. 758, even went so far as to state, on the Record, that "it serves no purpose to represent that S. 758 will pass or be acted upon this year or in the future."
As important and unusual as this result is, (rarely, if ever, have the Majority Leader and author of a bill taken the extraordinary step of going to the floor to declare a bill they support dead) several important notes of caution remain:
* The House could still consider the Judiciary Committee bill this year (although the likelihood of its doing so now is diminished, and the Committee Report has yet to be filed).
* Senators Lott and Ashcroft, even while pronouncing the bill dead in its present form, seem to have left room for action on a bill in the next Congress if the legislation takes a different approach. Ashcroft, for example, again cited "two Supreme Court rulings urging Congress to act on national legislation that would fairly and efficiently compensate victims of asbestos."
ATLA is battling vigorously against this industry-backed bailout legislation. It is estimated that proponents of the bill -- including GAF Corp., W.R. Grace, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- spent at least $20 million to date on their lobbying and media campaign. Used with permission from The Association of Trial Lawyers of America. All rights reserved.
Used with permission from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. All rights reserved.