MAC: Mines and Communities

US Asbestos Bill Sponsors Seek Signatures for Revote

Published by MAC on 2006-02-27

US Asbestos Bill Sponsors Seek Signatures for Revote

by PlanetArk, WASHINGTON

27th February 2006

The co-sponsors of legislation to create a $140 billion asbestos victims' compensation fund are trying to gather 60 senators' signatures on a letter asking for another vote on the bill, Senate aides said Friday.

Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy began circulating the letter this week after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist demanded pledges of support from at least 60 members -- enough to overcome procedural hurdles -- before bringing the embattled legislation back to the Senate floor.

The bill would remove from the courts the injury claims filed by people sickened from exposure to the fibrous mineral. It would pay the claims instead from a $140 billion fund financed by asbestos defendant companies and their insurers.

The asbestos bill was shelved earlier this month after it failed, 58 to 41, to get the 60 votes needed to clear a budget point of order raised on the Senate floor by a member concerned the proposed fund might end up costing taxpayers money.

The letter being circulated for signatures asks Frist, a Tennessee Republican, to schedule a revote on the budget point of order. Senate aides who spoke about the letter on condition of anonymity said they did not know how many signatures had been collected so far.

"Because this may be our last best chance to enact meaningful asbestos reform, we are hopeful that you share in our sense of urgency to resolve this important unfinished business of the Senate," said the letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters. However, the document does not say how senators signing it would vote on any possible filibuster of the bill -- a delaying tactic that would also require 60 votes to overcome.

Frist said on Feb. 17 that he wants assurances that 60 senators would vote to end any filibuster, as well as defeat the budget point of order, before bringing the bill back to the Senate floor.

The unusual request from Frist for public assurances reflected the difficulty the bill's sponsors have had building a dependable base of support for the legislation.

Although it has backers in both parties, the bill also has critics that fear the fund will not have enough money, or, alternatively, that it will require too much money from companies paying into the fund. The proposal has divided business as well as labor unions.

Asbestos victims' groups say they do not want to give up their right to sue in court.

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