October 11, 2013 by Barbara With
This is the first in a WCMC four-part series on asbestos.
On Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) introduced a substitute amendment to controversial SB13, the torts and personal injury trusts reform bill that makes it harder for victims of asbestos poisoning to receive trust money allotted for dealing with mesothelioma. Introduced back in February by Grothman and Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), SB11 had a public hearing on April 11, although the hearing results have yet to be posted on the official Wisconsin legislative website.
On Oct. 6, WCMC broke the story of abundant grunerite asbestos at Bulk Sampling Site 4 of the proposed Gogebic Taconite (GTac) mining project in the Penokee Hills. GTac repeatedly denied the presence of asbestos in their bulk sampling permit application. The state Department of Natural Resources knew that grunerite was present at GTac’s bulk sample sites but did little to give the public information on the potential health risks. DNR Hydrologist Larry Lynch went so far as to say he would trust GTac to come up with a plan to contain the asbestos that they themselves were denying existed.
Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins Jr. accused GTac of a cover-up, calling their denial of the presence of asbestos “a compelling premeditation for disaster.”
Grothman brought SB13 before the Committee on Judiciary and Labor the day after the story broke. Committee member Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) commented that at the time SB13 was introduced in February, it was aimed specifically at victims of asbestos poisoning to prevent them from receiving compensation for their injuries: “It sets up more procedures and makes things more difficult. It’s a terrible bill as it stands.”
Grothman’s amendment, however, would make all personal injury cases subject to the same delays originally intended for asbestos victims. Risser said, “It would change the rules in the middle of the game because it applies to cases that are already in court. That’s one of the real problems of the bill. I can’t believe that we would want to pass a bill that complicates things as much as it will.
Risser, the longest-serving legislator in Wisconsin history and longest-serving state legislator in the U.S. (first elected to the Assembly in 1956), introduced his own amendment, which was not adopted by the committee. “My amendment would subject this bill strictly to asbestos cases and would cut out other public injury cases. It would require full disclosure, as well as that the defendant make available certain information that would be made available to all parties throughout the court procedure. And it would not apply to cases already in court.”
A source at the Capitol, who spoke off the record, said that the asbestos lobby has pressured Grothman to bring the bill back. “The asbestos people are very anxious for this to get moving because it will affect the cases that are now pending.”
With the discovery of abundant amounts of asbestos present at the proposed bulk sampling drill site, GTac would also benefit from the passage of SB13.
Next Part 2: The History of Asbestos Trusts and Who Are the Wisconsin Asbestos Lobby