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Senate judiciary panel again takes up asbestos compensation bill

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] on Wednesday revived debate on the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act (FAIR) [PDF text; bill summary; JURIST news archive] at a Judiciary Committee hearing [meeting materials] to discuss changes to the bill. The asbestos compensation bill outlines a plan that would create a $140 billion trust fund financed through revenues from companies facing asbestos litigation and their insurers, and would effectively remove asbestos-related personal injury claims from the courts by funding asbestos claims through the private fund. The former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, warned [testimony transcript] that the trust fund would likely fall short of the liabilities asbestos manufacturers will face, and taxpayers will wind up paying for the claims. Holtz-Eakin added that the pressures the fund would face when starting up would likely cause it to spend more than half of its total expenditures in the first ten years, though it would take 30 years to collect the projected $140 billion maximum revenues. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman and bill sponsor Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] seemed offended by Holtz-Eakin's presumption that future Congresses will have to use tax revenues to pay for the fund shortfalls.

The asbestos compensation bill failed [JURIST report] to garner the necessary 60 votes for to prevent a filibuster in the Senate earlier this year, falling just one vote short. Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) [official website] and fiscal conservatives [Freedomworks press release] invoked a budgetary rule [JURIST report] barring legislation that would up US government spending by more $5 billion in any of four decades after 2016 in an effort to kill the asbestos compensation bill. Insurance companies oppose the bill [Insurancenewsnet report], arguing that it will not effectively end litigation, while trial attorneys view the bill as a cop-out denying victims their right to sue for damages [ATLA resources]. MarketWatch has more.

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