[JURIST] The US Senate Monday began debate [Leahy Senate floor log] of controversial legislation that would create a privately-funded trust to compensate victims of asbestos exposure [JURIST news archive] and shield companies from further liability. Under the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act [PDF], $140 billion would be set aside by asbestos manufacturers and insurance companies in exchange for immunity from civil suits at the state and national level. Asbestos-injured workers and their families would be eligible to receive anywhere from $25,000 to $1.1 million in compensation, with attorney fees capped at 5% of the total award.
In floor remarks [text] on Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy [official website], co-sponsoring the bill with Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, said it would bring the "tragic history of asbestos use in our country to an end." Fellow Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy [official website] nonetheless criticized the bill [statement] for failing to provide just compensation to the enormous amount of workers suffering from asbestos-induced diseases. It's not yet clear whether the legislation will come to an up-or-down vote; as several Democrats have objected to a general debate, GOP Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has called a preliminary procedural vote [Reuters report] for Tuesday evening on whether to proceed. AP has more.