House votes to increase asbestos claim disclosures

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Associated Press

Posted on November 13, 2013 at 6:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 14 at 2:01 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday voted to tighten disclosure requirements from asbestos trusts set up more than 20 years ago to help pay billions of dollars in injury claims.

By 221-199, the House approved a measure requiring asbestos trusts that pay damages to current and future asbestos victims to publish detailed quarterly reports with bankruptcy courts. The information must include names of new claimants and how much money the trust has paid out, under the legislation.

House Republicans say the bill — backed by the business community and the Chamber of Commerce — would provide oversight to asbestos trusts and ensure funds are available for future victims.

Most House Democrats opposed the measure, citing privacy concerns. The bill is likely to die in the House. The Democratic controlled Senate has no plans to take up the bill and the White House on Tuesday said President Barack Obama would veto it.

Asbestos, a building material linked with cancer and other health problems, has been the subject of lawsuits awarding billions of dollars in damages. As health concerns became clearer, and the number of lawsuits swelled, companies forced into bankruptcy because of asbestos litigation transferred their assets and liabilities to trusts established to pay current and future asbestos victims.

At least 100 companies have gone into bankruptcy at least in part from liabilities tied to asbestos, according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report. There are 60 asbestos trusts, with about $37 billion in assets, according to the GAO report.

Republicans say those trusts are ripe for fraud because of scant disclosure requirements.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who wrote the bill, said more oversight is needed to prevent people from filing claims with multiple trusts, or fraudulent claims. Trusts are in danger of running out of money if nothing's done, he said.

"We've got to protect this for future generations," Farenthold said. "We simply ask that we know who is getting what out of these trusts."

Democrats said the bill would subject asbestos victims to new privacy concerns because their name and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers would be public under the law.

"Every crook in the world with Internet access could use this information," said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

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