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Language for Libby back in bill

| April 29, 2005 12:00 AM

BY ROGER MORRRIS Western News Publisher

"Technical language" to ensure that Libby residents are adequately compensated by a health trust is being added to federal legislation by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.

When Senate Bill 852 - the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005 - was introduced last week, language was changed pertaining to Libby victims of asbestos-related disease that left both attorneys and advocates concerned.

Apparently, there was concern among the bill's supporters that the Libby language appeared to be providing compensation to people who were not yet sick, said Barrett Kaiser, Montana-based aide to Baucus.

While provisions concerning the Libby victims remained in the bill, there was some question about the level of compensation for those people, Kaiser said.

The Libby provisions were originally introduced by Baucus to the draft bill in early April. Those provisions provided Libby victims with a minimum of $400,000 each out of a trust fund of $140 billion.

Kaiser said that the case for each Libby victim would be considered by a different physicians panel than for victims of the more widely used chrysotile asbestos. Libby victims were exposed to more toxic tremolite asbestos, which triggers a disease that progresses differently.

"Some technical adjustments are being made on behalf of the Libby people," Kaiser said. "The $400,000 is still there for people who are sick. If you are not sick now but get sick, you still would be eligible."

The language change requires a level of impairment to qualify for the compensation, he said.

The bill is scheduled to be voted on Thursday by the Judiciary Committee before it is considered by the full Senate.

According to the news agency Reuters, as of Wednesday there were only seven declared supporters of the bill - five Republicans and two Democrats. The committee has 18 senators.

The news agency is also reporting that several senators will be approaching the bill with amendments to tighten up the medical criteria. They will support the bill's passage to the Senate floor only if those amendments are approved.

The Senate has been wrestling with a similar bill for more than five years to relieve a backlog of asbestos liability cases in courts nationwide that has caused the bankruptcy of hundreds of corporations.