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Published: Friday, 6/16/2006

Bad to worse on asbestos

WHEN asbestos legislation was blocked on the Senate floor in February, we said the bill was so flawed and inadequate that it needed to be completely rewritten to protect Americans genuinely harmed by this pernicious industrial fiber.

Now the bill is back, with a new number but with only minor changes which, unfortunately, make it worse than ever.

In an effort to sugarcoat a really bad piece of legislation, the bill's backers are claiming that rescue and clean-up workers from the 9/11 attack sites and from Hurricane Katrina would be covered for asbestos injury.

What they aren't saying is that such workers wouldn't be helped because they wouldn't meet another requirement of the measure: five years of occupational exposure. The contention that anyone denied benefits could file an appeal also is specious because the bill doesn't fund its own appeals board, or even set claims criteria.

And the $140 billion compensation fund promised by the legislation would be even more overtaxed and likely to be quickly exhausted than under previous proposals.

In addition to these flaws, the measure would erase progressive asbestos litigation reform laws in many states, including Ohio. What was once billed as tort reform, which we support, has evolved into a maneuver to push all asbestos claims into the already overtaxed federal courts and to make it all but impossible to secure compensation where actual harm can be shown.

Merely renumbering a bill and adding a little window-dressing does not constitute progress on what we believe is an important issue, that of fairly compensating as many people as possible who suffered from silent exposure to what was once a common insulation material.

The Senate should defeat the asbestos bill - again.

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