Last year, Republicans in the House and Senate introduced two bills that would make it harder for asbestos victims to file and receive compensation in asbestos trust fund cases.
Both bills failed to gain momentum in the Senate and never came to fruition.
Yet, even if they had passed, President Obama would have surely used his veto power to stop them.
With the GOP in control of the House, Senate, and the presidency, those bills may become a reality. Recently, the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act of 2017, which would make it more difficult for victims to receive compensation from asbestos trust funds, passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 19-11 margin. The bill now must pass a full House vote.
Although the FACT Act received little press, it could have major implications for victims seeking compensation from asbestos trusts, which currently hold $30+ billion.
The measure outlines stiffer criteria and new requirements for asbestos victims to pass before filing a claim with an asbestos trust fund. These new measures also require private case information to be disclosed publicly, with opponents say would be an invasion of privacy.
FACT Act Previously Faced Opposition from Teachers, Veterans, First Responders
Last year when the FACT Act was introduced in the House, the bill was met with vocal opposition. One group of 17 veterans called the legislation the asbestos’ industry’s “cynical ploy” to prevent and discourage victims from receiving compensation.
Veterans are disproportionately affected by asbestos-related illnesses; they comprise less than 10 percent of the population, but they’ve faced 30 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses since WWII.
In 2015, three veterans wrote an op-ed published by The Hill that took aim at some of the bill’s disclosure requirements, which many felt were an invasion of privacy for victims. First, the bill would require that asbestos trusts publish sensitive information – including work and health histories, exposure dates, etc. – on public websites.
In addition to the disclosures, additional measures would have to be taken by victims, which the authors argued would delay the trust claims process.
This wasn’t the only opposition. Another group – comprised of the National Education Association, public works federal and the International Association of Fire Fighters – said the bill would enable asbestos companies to delay payments and avoid compensating victims.
President Trump’s Past Comments on Asbestos Troubling
President Trump is no stranger to controversy, and when it comes to the use of asbestos in construction, his stance is decidedly against the grain.
In the past, he’s said that asbestos – a known carcinogen – is 100 percent safe when fully installed, and said the World Trade Center would not have collapsed if more asbestos had been used in its construction. Of course, an estimated 400 tons of asbestos were released when the Twin Towers collapsed, and today, thousands of 9/11 first responders and victims suffer from asbestos-related illnesses.
Additionally, Trump has speculated that laws to ban and remove asbestos were a mob conspiracy. He said in his book, The Art of the Deal, that the mob controlled the asbestos clean-up industry, and therefore pressured lawmakers to push for banning the substance.
Finally, Trump has battled victims of asbestos exposure in the past. During a demolition project to make way for the rise of Trump Tower in Manhattan, a group of immigrant works were exposed to asbestos dust clouds and did not receive proper safety equipment. Trump ultimately settled with the workers – 15 years after their initial claims.
Will FACT Act Gain Momentum in 2017?
The FACT Act has long been a pet project of Rep. Farenthold. He introduced a version of the bill as early as 2013 when it had passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate.
Subsequently, the bill was reintroduced in 2015 and 2016. The 2017 version of the bill is the exact version that was introduced in the previous sessions.
Past versions of the bill have yet to pass in the Senate. Ultimately, with the Super Majority, many pro-tort reform advocates are excited that legislation like FACT will finally gain enough momentum to pass.