Senators debating asbestos settlements squared off Thursday in disagreements over the effect new requirements will have on terminally ill plaintiffs.
House Bill 2457 would require those suffering from mesothelioma to conduct an investigation and file all possible claims before a civil lawsuit can move forward. The Senate passed the bill, which cleared the House last month, on a voice vote after hearing concerns raised by Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, Kan.
Senators also passed bills regarding access to police body camera video, tracking of assets seized by law enforcement, compensation for wrongful convictions, retail electric rates and self-serve beer taps.
Modeled on American Legislative Exchange Council policy, the asbestos bill aims to reduce payouts in a civil trial by revealing to jurors the money victims also receive from bankruptcy trusts. Republicans Gene Suellentrop, of Wichita, and Rick Wilborn, of McPherson, defended the bill as a vehicle for speeding the payment process.
“What this has done,” Suellentrop said, “is provide a seamless, transparent way for those claimants to come forward, to not have to stretch out their discovery time frame.”
There are no time restrictions under current law, whereas the new law provides a court-appointed 30-day window for making claims.
Pettey said other legislation already makes it difficult for asbestos victims to file a claim. She called the new law an unnecessary burden that requires sick people to provide extensive information before seeking relief.
“It is a devastating, fast-moving disease,” Pettey said. “And when you add on delays through litigation, as this bill would do, it leaves those families hanging, as well as their loved one, who is dying. There is not a problem. We’re trying to create a problem that doesn’t exist.”
In other debate, senators rejected an effort by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, to divert 5 percent of seized assets to a forfeiture victims assistance fund. The money would have been used to provide counseling services to any child who suffers as a result of asset seizures.
She proposed amending House Bill 2459, which requires the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to track seized assets by agency, location, type of property and resolution of any criminal charges. The Senate passed the bill after denying the amendment.
Faust-Goudeau complained that colleagues through the years keep telling her she has good ideas without supporting her efforts to help constituents.
“Some people may not have that check stub to prove that money was actually theirs during that seizure,” Faust-Goudeau said. “I don’t know, but one day my great idea might actually, you know, be a real policy.”