GRASSLEY: CLASS ACTION BILL TO MOVE AFTER CONGRESSIONAL RECESS.
"Hopefully we'll round up 60 votes to end debate," he told attendees of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform's 2003 Summit. "If not, I expect Majority Leader [Bill] Frist to have the Senate working on the bill Jan. 3, not lounging around on Florida's beaches."
The bill, S. 274, sponsored by Grassley and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), would allow class action lawsuits to be removed from state to federal courts when at least $5 million is at stake and when fewer than two-thirds of class members live in the same state as the defendant.
The bill passed the Judiciary Committee last April on a 12-7 vote and was scheduled to come up for a vote the week of Sept. 8, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (D-TN) delayed the vote because supporters were three short of the 60 votes they needed for cloture.
Since then, Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) has been circulating an alternative measure which would allow class actions to stay in state court if two-thirds of class members live in the same state and drops any mention of the defendant.
When asked about the Breaux alternative, Grassley called it "a poison pill" and "not a compromise, as it has been labeled."
The Breaux measure "won't do anything to stop the widespread abuses," Grassley said, adding it only would do harm to the "carefully crafted bipartisan compromise" bill he had worked out with Kohl and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Grassley called on the attendees to help him get "the 60 votes necessary to bring this important measure to a vote in the full Senate and to beat back a filibuster which our trial lawyer friends have threatened."
He said he was "optimistic because we have made a lot of progress and are getting close to the 60 votes we need, but time is growing short.
"What concerns the trial bar the most is that our bill is fair and reasonable, and as such it may be more difficult to obstruct. Rest assured, they'll do everything they can to try and kill this measure."
He added there was always the chance his bill would be added as an amendment to another bill. "When one gets up to the midnight hour, that always is a possibility," he said.
A similar measure, H.R. 1115, passed the House in June (Liability & Insurance Week, June 16).
Grassley said he also expected the asbestos trust fund bill, S. 1125, to move, "but there will have to be some compromise before that happens, more finality to the process and less financial hit on the insurers."
Grassley was asked to speak for Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who was recovering from a back operation.
Grassley praised Hatch for his efforts to negotiate with labor, business groups and insurers to establish a no-fault court system to pay claimants out of a $108 billion privately-financed fund.
Although Grassley and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Larry Craig (R-ID) voted to get the bill out of committee, they told Hatch they would not vote for it on the floor of the Senate unless changes they agreed to at the last minute, in an attempt to get a bipartisan bill out of committee, were deleted.
Grassley said he knew Hatch was continuing "to address concerns that have been raised with the bill as it came out of committee" so the bill could come to the Senate floor.
In particular, the four senators oppose an amendment sponsored by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) that would allow asbestos claims to go back into the court system if the administrator of the trust fund determines the fund does not have enough money to pay 95 percent of the claims in any given year.
The presidents of the Alliance of American Insurers, the National Association of Independent Insurers, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and the Reinsurance Association of America have written Frist saying, "actions by the Senate Judiciary Committee make the legislation inequitable, unaffordable and unworkable from the standpoint of insurers."
They insist all claims must be handled by the trust fund and their contribution to the fund must be capped at $45 billion.
The House has no similar bill, as the House leadership decided to wait to see what bill emerged from the Senate before acting.
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|Publication:||Liability & Insurance Week|
|Date:||Sep 29, 2003|
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