JEFFERSON CITY —Missouri Senate Democrats declared victory after they filibustered a bill that would change the procedures for asbestos-related lawsuits.
Senate Bill 575, sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, would require people suing because of asbestos-related health issues to state that they have filed all available claims with trusts set up to provide compensation for asbestos victims.
Asbestos is a construction material that can cause lung disease and cancer, including mesothelioma, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
Under the bill, defendants in asbestos cases could file motions to ensure that the people suing them have filed with all available trust funds. Judgments could also be adjusted in some cases if the person subsequently receives a payment from a trust.
Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said that he and almost all of his fellow Democrats opposed the bill because it “would have made it much harder for victims of exposure to asbestos to recover for their injury."
He said opinion on the bill fell mostly along party lines, with at least one exception on each side, and that the bill was supported by insurance companies that have a stake in asbestos cases.
In a statement, Senate Democratic leader Gina Walsh also attributed the bill’s support to insurance lobbyists and said it would “help asbestos manufacturers and insurance companies avoid responsibility by running out the clock on dying mesothelioma victims.”
The filibuster began at 2 p.m. Tuesday and lasted through the night until nearly 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, when Republican leaders opted to set the bill aside, at least temporarily.
During the filibuster at least two Democrats needed to be present to hold the floor, with another nearby in case a replacement was needed, Sifton said. While Senate rules don’t require it, Sifton said he and his colleagues stayed on topic for the first 10 hours before branching into other subjects around midnight.
Eigel said his bill is intended to “make it easier for victims of asbestos exposure to get payments they are rightfully due from both trust and tort actions” and to shorten the process for them to receive those payments. Democrats who opposed the bill misunderstood its effects, he said.
He also emphasized that the latest version of the bill would have banned the use of asbestos in Missouri.
Because of the lack of progress in the lengthy discussions of the bill, Eigel said it is hard to imagine a consensus materializing during this session. He expects that the issue will be brought up early next session.
Immediately after the filibuster ended, the Senate gave initial approval to a final version of SB 591, another lawsuit-related bill that would restrict the awarding of punitive damages.
Sifton said that while he still opposes the bill, he considers the current version an improvement over what had initially been proposed. He said bill opponents were able to add amendments that put “procedural safeguards” in place and made it easier to hold companies responsible for their employees’ actions.