Proposed Bills to Threaten Victims Rights | Take Justice Back

Proposed Bills to Threaten Victims Rights

This week, Congress is devoting one of its first weeks back after recess and the government shutdown to try and mend ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  They have scheduled a House floor vote on two U.S. Chamber sponsored bills (H.R. 982 & H.R. 2655).  Debate on the two bills will start Wednesday, Nov. 13th. 

The only goals of both bills are to limit the rights of Americans to access justice and accountability.

H.R. 982 (FACT Act) would violate asbestos victims’ privacy and allow asbestos corporations to delay and deny justice until asbestos victims die.  This bill is a handout to corporations such as Honeywell and Union Carbide that knowingly exposed millions of Americans to the deadly toxin – asbestos.

H.R. 982 will disproportionately harm veterans, who have been disproportionately exposed to asbestos. Congress is set to vote on this anti-veterans, anti-victims, anti-privacy bill the same week of Veterans Day.

H.R. 2655 (LARA) is the latest favor to multinational corporations seeking to undermine the rights of Americans and bully their way out of accountability.  It will force our courts and judges down a path that is known to be unnecessary and counterproductive by taking away judges’ discretion to issue sanctions and replacing it with Congressionally-mandated rules. These are the same rules that were in place from 1983 to 1993, which judges and legal scholars ruled a complete failure. 

When these rules were in effect from 1983 to 1993, they prevented Americans who were targets of discrimination or civil rights violations from bringing cases.

Asbestos Background

  • Asbestos kills at least 10,000 Americans every year.
  • Asbestos is still legal and lethal in the United States – it is even present in the U.S. Capitol and House Office buildings.
  • Veterans comprise 30% of all mesothelioma deaths nationally but only make up 8% of the population.  Mesothelioma is horrific asbestos disease for which there is no cure. 
  • Asbestos was known to be deadly by the 1930s, but asbestos corporate executives callously covered-up the dangers of asbestos for profit.
  • Time is of the essence – most victims of asbestos-related diseases die within one to two years after diagnosis.

H.R. 982 (FACT Act)

The “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2013” (H.R.982), is part of the latest tactic implemented by ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to let the asbestos industry off the hook by burying the system in paperwork and delaying justice until victims die. This strategy focuses on an easily misunderstood bankruptcy process and takes a three-pronged approach:

  • State legislation: In 2007, ALEC adopted the “Asbestos Claims Transparency Act.” LA, MI, MS, PA, OH, OK, SC, TX, WV, and WI have seen versions of this legislation. 
  • Judicial Conference: On November 22, 2010, the U.S. Chamber made a direct appeal to the Judicial Conference to change the rules governing bankruptcy law.
  • Federal legislation: H.R.982 was introduced on March 6, 2013.  In the 112th Congress, H.R.4369 / S.3076 was introduced in the House and Senate.

Pulling back the curtain on this legislation shows where transparency is needed – with the asbestos industry and the front groups working on its behalf.

H.R. 2655 (LARA)

  • Rule 11, as it is currently written, gives judges the flexibility to determine when to enforce sanctions against attorneys who file lawsuits containing errors or for improper purposes.
  • H.R. 2655 would take away that flexibility, replacing the discretion of federal court judges with Congressionally-mandated rules.
  • The American Bar Association, the Judicial Conference of the United States and a coalition of consumer groups oppose this legislation.