WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Members of both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives debated the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act and proposed amendments Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, sponsored the FACT Act, or House Resolution 982. It would require more transparency from asbestos trusts. The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill in May.
During debate on the House floor Wednesday, Farenthold said the proposed legislation is simple.
"It's two pages of text," he said as he held a copy of the resolution. "There is no requirement of any action by the (asbestos) victims. The trusts are the only ones required to do something. This doesn't involve broad release of information.
"It just requires them to tell who they're paying money to and what they're paying, so there is no double dipping. No medical records will be released."
Opponents of the bill, however, argued that victims' privacy will be harmed.
"(The Republicans) now are willing to throw privacy rights under the bus," said John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., "They now stand with big asbestos and again trample on the victims and their families.
"This is just an unfair and unnecessary advantage bestowed on asbestos manufacturers. Why is it necessary for a claimant to give up their right to privacy just because they seek compensation?"
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., noted that asbestos victims' groups oppose the bill.
"The procedure that brought this bill to the floor was flawed, so the bill should be flawed," he said during the floor debate. "If it's for the victims and for preserving funds, this whole proceeding should be conceived as an attack on the victims -- not allowing them to speak or not allowing transparency. It's about covering up.
"The asbestos victims groups are against it. Something smells, and it's not Denmark."
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., supports the resolution.
"Move this important legislation forward," he said. "Each day is more chance for fraudulence. This will be benefit victims."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the FACT Act isn't strong enough.
"This measure does not meet this challenge," she said Wednesday. "That is the fact. This bill would deny cancer victims the simple justice they deserve.
"There is no need for this bill. State laws require for adequate disclosure. This bill is unnecessary. It is mean-spirited."
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in 2011 that it didn't find any evidence of fraud with asbestos trusts.
"This bill does nothing to increase transparency and just increases burden on victims," she said. "Instead, the FACT Act makes it more difficult for asbestos victims to obtain compensation for their injuries."
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., echoed Johnson's claims.
"Trusts were set up so victims still could be compensated even after these companies went bankrupt," he said. "There is no evidence of systemic fraud. HR 982 would put tremendous new administrative burdens on these trusts."
Goodlatte said the measure simply is "good legislative reform for the protection of these assets for future availability."
"Trusts already are reducing amounts they can pay and will run out of money before all of the legitimate claims can be paid," he said. "(The Democrats') claims are unfounded. The FACT Act would help victims by protecting trust funds for future claimants."
He also noted that the bill would not delay legitimate claims.
"It simply will root out those who are making duplicative claims, who are trying to double dip," Goodlatte said. "As we know ... asbestos is a problem that has affected many, many Americans. It is something that can be latent for a long period of time.
"We want to make sure these victims who come along later have the opportunity to recover, not just those who want to abuse the system."
A vote on the measure still is pending.