AB 597 Retreat Is Victory For Asbestos Victims
AB 597, a California State Assembly bill that threatened the rights of asbestos victims, has vanished for now, I am proud to report. Thanks to a concerted effort by the Consumer Attorneys of California, labor unions and other concerned groups, AB 597 was mothballed by the leading Assemblyman, its sponsor.
With major corporate interests like the Koch Brothers behind AB597, a bill designed to deprive mesothelioma patients and other victims of unlawful asbestos exposure of their right to a speedy trial and just compensation, we can be sure they will attempt new legislation like this again. We will remain vigilant but for now let us rejoice in the victory we have won for justice.
AB 597 Official Death Notice
AB 597 is short for California Assembly Bill No. 597. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, a Democrat from Rancho Cordova who offered a bill written by a powerful nationwide business lobbying group known by the acronym ALEC. ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council. Their goal is to tear down laws designed to shield Americans from the dangers of corporate greed. They turn out model legislation to slip into state assemblies all over the country. In this instance asbestos victims were in their cross hairs. But they didn’t get away with it.
AB 597 was scheduled for a hearing this week. But a recently released current bill status update clearly states, “Hearing canceled at the request of author.” This means that the bill did not even make it to a vote.
AB 597 Fight Rallied Diverse Citizen Groups
AB 597’s chilling threat to the rights of asbestos victims was viewed as a giant step in the wrong direction by many diverse groups who protect people. Firefighters and building and construction workers all face higher than average risks of asbestos exposure because of the presence of asbestos in many buildings. The groups that represent these workers helped us put together a strong coalition in opposition to AB 597: the State Labor Federation, the State Building Trades, the State Laborers Union, the California Professional Firefighters, the State Teamsters along with nearly every labor and democratic group organized in AB 597 sponsor Assemblyman Cooley’s district. Constituents placed over 100 phone calls directly to his office to oppose the bill.
Veterans, whose health plight has deservedly been in recent news, also opposed AB 597. Although veterans represent only eight percent of the U.S. population, they are an astonishing 30% of all known mesothelioma cases. Mesothelioma’s only cause is asbestos exposure. Veterans, especially those who served in the U.S. Navy, often were exposed to asbestos in the brake linings of military vehicles and in the insulating materials on ships.
While these groups and many others besieged Assemblyman Cooley’s office with phone calls and emails, Kazan Law’s of counsel Fran Schreiberg and I helped provide the policy arguments needed to help the committee members understand why AB 597 was a bad idea. Bills typically are dropped when the bill’s author realizes the votes are not there to get the measure out of committee and that’s what happened to AB 597.
AB 597: A Political Lesson
The rise and fall of AB 597 offers an interesting lesson in politics. First of all, the big money interests who really crafted this stealthy bill chose California because we have the dubious distinction of leading the nation in mesothelioma and asbestos-related deaths.
Second, most of us buy into the stereotype that members of the Republican Party represent big business and the Democrats are more attuned to remedying injustices faced by the vast majority of everyday people. Yet the reality is that AB 597, which intended to hurt people all ready fatally hurt by asbestos exposure, was introduced by a Democrat. This was a clever strategy. In a Democrat-controlled Legislature, it is very difficult to stop bills introduced by a fellow Democrat. The lesson is that some California legislators who are Democrats have fallen for corporate rhetoric about business and jobs at the expense of sickness and death.
Fortunately, our state is represented by many good and honorable legislators who recognized the false logic cruel injustice AB 597 would have inflicted on those suffering from the lethal effects of asbestos exposure. And they understood that this asbestos exposure was knowingly caused by the very same business interests that were the real architects of AB 597. So the wonderful lesson is that democracy still works and that given enough information, the people we elect to represent us will do just that – represent us.
For more details on what AB 597 intended to do to the legal rights of asbestos victims, please see our recent article Asbestos Legislation AB 597 Will Trample Victims’ Rights.