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On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1927, which included the FACT Act, by a vote of 211-188. The vote came after a four-hour debate on the House floor and was mainly along party lines.
No Democrats voted for the bill, while most Republicans supported it. But 16 Republicans voted against the bill, about a three-fold increase in Republican opposition from the vote in the last Congress.
The legislation passed by the House actually combined the FACT Act, which was originally introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, with another pro-business piece of legislation, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act. Both the FACT Act and the class action litigation bill are now headed for consideration in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, has introduced a similar version of the FACT Act in the Senate.
The passage by the House of Representatives came despite strong opposition from asbestos patients and their families, veterans groups, firefighters and the Obama White House, which has threatened to veto the legislation.
After Friday’s vote, opponents reiterated that the FACT Act would delay or deny compensation to asbestos patients and their families and make them vulnerable to identify theft. And they criticized the House members who supported it.
“Today, we found out which members of the House believe privacy is a right afforded to all Americans – or a privilege that does not include those veterans, first responders and others sick and dying from asbestos-triggered disease,” said Alex Formuzis, vice president for strategic campaigns at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund. “We’ll now see how members of the Senate come down on protecting the rights to compensation and privacy for asbestos victims harmed by the asbestos industry.”
Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), also sharply criticized the congressmen who voted for the bill.
“It is difficult to imagine many of our elected leaders, sent to Washington to defend the rights of the people, voting for a bill that would impose such harm for those already suffering from the ravages of asbestos disease – but that is exactly what 211 members of the Congress did today,” Reinstein said. “Today’s demonstrates the clear grip big asbestos corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have on many in Congress, who voted in lockstep on behalf of the asbestos industry and against its victims.”
However, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, the sponsor of the FACT Act in the House, applauded the passage of the bill, which he said was necessary to help root out fraud. “The FACT Act helps ensure there are funds left for veterans and others exposed to asbestos that are not yet showing symptoms by curbing fraud and double dipping,” Farenthold said. “The legislation is carefully crafted to protect victims’ privacy while making enough information available to combat fraud and abuse.
Despite Friday’s vote in the House, opponents of the FACT Act were relatively confident that they will be able to stop it from becoming law. Among other things, they pointed out that an increasing number of Republicans voted against the bill in the House, that the legislation is likely to have less support in the Senate than in the House and that President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes both the House and the Senate.