Asbestos ‘double-dipping’ bill could get a vote this week

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) — Legislation that targets the country’s current asbestos injury compensation system, requiring asbestos trust funds to disclose information on their claims, may be up for a vote this week.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives website, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency, or FACT, Act is among a handful of legal reform bills that may be considered by the House this week.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican who serves as vice-chairman of the Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law Subcommittee, reintroduced the FACT Act last month. His office could not comment on when, specifically, the legislation would see a vote.

The office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also did not return messages seeking comment on a specific timeline. In the House, majority party leadership decides which bills the House will consider and in what order.

However, it appears that the FACT Act has been, or will be, merged with the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, and is expected to be looked at by the House Committee on Rules Wednesday.

When asked recently by Legal Newsline whether President Donald Trump has indicated to Farenthold that he supports the proposed legislation — and hence not veto it should it come across his desk — Farenthold’s office seemed hopeful.

“I don’t think he [Trump] has a reason not to [support the legislation], but we expect it to be rolled into a larger ‘reform’ package and passed that way,” Elizabeth Peace, a spokeswoman for Farenthold, said last week.

Peace explained that regulatory and litigation reform bills are being marked up and reported out of the House Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Tom Marino, R-Pa., are listed as cosponsors of the GOP-backed bill.

The FACT Act, or H.R. 906, would increase transparency in the asbestos trust system, in which about 100 companies that were targeted frequently by asbestos lawsuits declared bankruptcy to establish trusts to compensate victims.

On Feb. 15, the committee passed H.R. 906 by a vote of 19-11. The panel, in a vote later in the day, passed Goodlatte’s Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017 by a vote of 19-12.

Peace said H.R. 906 is the same version that was introduced last Congress.

That version was merged with the class action bill, which was introduced in April 2015, in January 2016.

The House passed last year’s Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act, or H.R. 1927, by a vote of 211-188. Additional hearings were held by the Senate, but ultimately it failed to move on the legislation.

Former President Barack Obama would have vetoed the bill had it passed the Senate.

Farenthold’s previous bill, H.R. 526 or the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2015, stalled in committee.

The initial version of the bill passed the House in 2013; Farenthold again was the sponsor.

Like previous versions, the bill would require quarterly reports on claims made to the trusts while taking measures to protect claimants’ personal information.

It also would require trusts to respond to information sought from them by defendants in asbestos lawsuits. Defendants in those lawsuits want to ensure that plaintiffs’ attorneys aren’t fully blaming their products while also blaming the products of companies that established trusts.

It is a practice that was brought to light in Garlock Sealing Technologies’ bankruptcy proceeding.

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