Skulduggery afoot in House Judiciary Committee | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Skulduggery afoot in House Judiciary Committee

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 9:52 AM

House Judiciary meets this morning on the compromise anti-gay legislation, now amended to be less overtly aimed at oppressing LGBT people.

But take a look at what's first on the agenda: House Bill 1529. "AN ACT TO CREATE THE SUCCESSOR CORPORATION ASBESTOS-RELATED LIABILITY FAIRNESS ACT"

Don't go to sleep yet. This is high-powered lobbyist (Bruce Hawkins) skulduggery that has gotten special treatment at every step of the process because Hawkins provides support to many political candidates and wines and dines them, too.

It's a bill designed to help Crown Cork & Seal. It would leave it from future liability for asbestos claims against a company it bought, Mundet, which made insulation. It has paid millions to date because it took on those liabilities as part of its purchase deal.

HB 1529 is sponsored by the Morrilton successor to Hawkins' old House seat, Rep. Rick Beck. Sen. Jason Rapert, who worked hand in glove with Hawkins to protect the Conway County liquor monopoly from competition in Rapert's home of Faulkner County, is toting the bags for Hawkins in the Senate.

Trial lawyers beat the bill in Senate Judiciary four times. Rapert got the bill referred, with Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang's help, to his Insurance and Commerce Committee. The bill was signed out of committee without a hearing. Opponents objected to the procedure, but Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin ruled that enough time had been passed for the bill to be signed out. 

Crown Cork & Seal has no operations here. But asbestos sufferers do live here. So the company is working state by state to be released from paying claims for mesothelioma sufferers, many of whom are veterans who were exposed to asbestos around boilers and other military equipment. ALEC is reportedly working on these state bills. Crown Cork is an ALEC supporter, so that's enough to make them golden with Arkansas legislators.

Opponents say they hear repeatedly from Republican legislators that Hawkins has been good to them and the governor. Thus the extraordinary steps to keep this special interest, anti-consumer bill alive.

It will need a rules suspension to get cleared in the House. Tune in. 

UPDATE: It quickly cleared committee this morning. The fix apparently is in.

UPDATE II: It took some bodacious maneuvering and rules ignoring in the Senate, but the deed got done and Bruce Hawkins should get a bonus from Crown Cork. It passed the House with 75 votes.

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