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Defeat asbestos relief bill Law would do little to help workers while easing corporate burdens

The "Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act" (FAIR) remains a flawed piece of legislation that deserves to be defeated.

Opponents of FAIR won a key Senate floor vote sending the legislation back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where sponsors will need to redesign the asbestos injury compensation fund to take into account the more than $5 billion in borrowing required during the early years of the fund's operation.

Both Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have indicated an effort to bring FAIR back to the floor without restructuring the bill. Frist has said he will revisit the matter in early March, seeming determined to make another run with the bill, as is.

The bill eliminates the role of state courts in asbestos litigation, as most asbestos lawsuits are argued under state consumer protection and labor laws. There also would be no access to federal courts for plaintiffs and defendants, no "sunset" plan to handle the legitimate needs of future claimants, and "do-it-yourself" homeowners installing asbestos insulations also would be barred from the courts and have no recourse if they become ill. Instead, sick workers or their family members who could prove five years of occupational exposure to asbestos would be entitled to compensation from the $140 billion pot of money the legislation would establish, an easier lift for the large companies and insurers that would provide the money. The question is whether it's enough.

An analysis by Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee determined the bill could force taxpayers to pay as much as $150 billion to make up for a shortfall in financing.

The FAIR bill, benefiting deep-pocketed corporations and special interests, is anything but fair. The risk that the fund could be quickly depleted means putting the burden on the backs of taxpayers. This bill should die on the Senate floor.

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