Legislators are again considering a bill that will legally hurt asbestos victims and rob them of their privacy if Congress approves it.
At the start of 2015, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, introduced the newest version of the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency (FACT) Act, also known as H.R. 526.
The bill would place heavy burdens on the asbestos trusts established by negligent companies to compensate workers and their families who are affected by asbestos.
The proposed legislation seeks to add costly reporting requirements that will delay compensation, as well as public disclosure of sensitive and private information such as partial Social Security numbers, work histories and other personal data.
“It might be voted on before the end of the year, but we’re not 100 percent sure,” Farenthold’s spokeswoman told Asbestos.com.
GovTrack, a website that helps users track bills through Congress and predicts their success rate, gives the House version of the FACT Act an 11 percent chance of being enacted.
Supporters of the bill claim the measure protects victims by warding off fraudulent claims to the asbestos trust funds. Current state and federal laws consider trust fund negotiations private and confidential, not subject to discovery or admissible in court cases.
Activist Susan Vento Leads FACT Act Opposition
Susan Vento describes her late husband, U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minnesota, as a hardworking public servant.
Vento died in 2000 after an eight-month battle with mesothelioma, the deadly cancer directly related to asbestos exposure. He encountered the deadly fibers while working as a laborer as he put himself through college.
His widow now spends her time advocating for patients and families affected by mesothelioma. In a recent Star Tribune article, Vento called the FACT Act “bad legislation.”
“Supporters of the FACT Act are the corporations that exposed innocent workers, consumers and their family members to asbestos, while concealing what they knew about this dangerous poison,” Vento said.
She says the bill a “gross violation of our privacy” and negates the claim by supporters that fraud against the asbestos trust funds is a problem.
“Not a single instance of fraud against the trust funds has been identified,” Vento asserts.
Vento’s Additional Concerns
Vento criticizes supporters of the legislation because she says they have been unwilling to hear what affected families have to say about the legislation.
“The only people who would be directly affected by the bill have been completely shut out of the process,” Vento said.
She also reveals that passage of the FACT Act opens the door for endless paperwork that would bog down the compensation process for victims as asbestos companies request information.
“This would drain the funds of money that is desperately needed to compensate sick and dying victims. As the victims get more and more desperate, they will be willing to settle cases for pennies on the dollar, taking needed compensation away from families and leaving it in the pockets of the responsible companies,” she added.
Similar Asbestos Tort Reform Bills Introduced in 2013
A new congressional session in 2015 shelved both proposals, leading to Farenthold’s reincarnation of the bill in January.
Seeking Support on Capitol Hill
A recent trip to Washington, D.C., garnered allies for Vento in Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, as well as U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota.
All three legislators committed to help block the FACT Act from becoming law.
Companion bill S. 357, introduced by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, remains in committee.