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Revamped Asbestos Reform Bill Introduced in Senate

Two U.S. Senators have revived a controversial asbestos reform bill that died in the Senate earlier this year.

The revamped "Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2006" (S. 3274, also referred to as the FAIR Act of 2006) includes a number of changes proposed by senators during previous debates over the bill, but the main thrust of the bill is the same as the one that was nixed on the Senate floor on Feb. 14: It proposes to take all asbestos claims out of the court system by creating a no-fault, $140 billion asbestos trust fund that would be financed by private industry.

Under the bill, asbestos victims would submit their claims to the fund which would be administered by the Department of Labor and would have to meet certain medical criteria designed to weed out fraudulent claims.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. who, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is sponsoring the bill urged his colleagues to pass the bill "for the sake of thousands of victims dying from asbestos-related disease who are unable to secure compensation in today's broken tort system."

"The time is now for asbestos reform and any further delay by [the Senate] will only prolong the suffering of asbestos victims, companies and their employees," Specter said on May 26, when he introduced the bill.

Senators: Bill Addresses Stakeholder Concerns

Specter said that the bill responds to a number of concerns raised by senators and other stakeholders in that the bill calls for a speedier recovery of compensation for the sickest asbestos claimants; stronger medical screening criteria; limitations on so-called "dormant claims"; exempting small businesses from paying into the fund; and "a litany of safeguards to ensure that defendant companies do not encounter insolvencies or inequities because of their contributions."

The bill, Leahy noted on May 26, also includes an amendment that make the trust fund accessible to victims who were exposed to asbestos as result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as an amendment that protects small- and medium-size companies that have a significant number of asbestos claims by allowing them to annually contribute 1.67 percent of their gross revenues to the fund.

"The Last Best Chance"

Leahy and Specter implored their fellow Senators to consider S. 3274 right away, as, Leahy said, "time is running out for this session of Congress."

"If this amended bill is rejected, I do not see the agenda of the Senate Judiciary Committee revisiting this issue," Specter said. "I cannot conceive of a more strenuous effort being directed to this subject that has been done over the past 3 years. Let me make clear that this is the last best chance."

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