The asbestos industry’s 24-year fight to pass legislation that would protect it from lawsuits by workers and others who have become ill as a result of exposure to asbestos will be renewed again in January, according to Senate Judiciary Committee’s new chairman, Arlen Specter (R-PA), as reported by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

In December meetings with representatives of asbestos companies, insurance companies, organized labor and trial lawyers, Specter said that he planned to introduce a revised version of the bill that died without coming to a vote in 2004.

According to media reports concerning the revised bill, it would require manufacturers that used asbestos and their insurance companies to contribute $140 billion to set up a trust fund to pay compensation to workers injured by asbestos. Workers would file claims against the fund, which would make payouts according to a schedule that assigns a specific value to each malady that can be caused by asbestos.

At the same time, it would make it impossible for anyone sickened by asbestos to sue for compensation. The bill would bring an end to all litigation over asbestos injuries, and eliminate compensation rights of people who were exposed to low levels of asbestos at work and of people whose exposure was not at work. With some very limited exceptions, those people would neither be eligible to sue or to file a claim against the trust fund.

An AFL-CIO official who is familiar with the Specter proposal and the reaction to it, told NYCOSH that "all of the stakeholders have objections to this bill, but the biggest objections are coming from industry and the insurers." Citing the bill’s accelerated schedule for paying into the fund, "they think that this bill is worse that the last version. They are saying, ‘We won the election, we have bigger majorities in both houses, why can’t we get a bill that is better for us instead of one that is worse?’"