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SENATE PRODUCT LIABILITY BILL SET FOR SEPT. 23 HEARING

Executive Summary

SENATE PRODUCT LIABILITY BILL SET FOR SEPT. 23 HEARING before the Commerce/Consumer Subcommittee chaired by Sen. Bryan (D-Nev.). Sen. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a cosponsor of the bill introduced March 31, told the National Association of Manufacturers Sept. 16that the legislation (S 687/HR 1954) will be enacted in 1994. "We will do it this [Congress]," Rockefeller predicted. "We will have the votes to do it." Despite the opposition of Bryan and full committee Chairman Hollings (D-S.C.), Rockefeller said he expects the bill to be reported out of the Commerce Committee by the end of the session. "We will have a markup before the end of this year in the Commerce Committee," he forecast. A markup before year-end would give the legislation all of 1994 to complete all Senate hurdles. Under this scenario, the Commerce Committee would refer the measure to the Judiciary Committee, which opposes the bill but would have only 60-90 days to act on it. The predicted timetable therefore leaves "the entire Senate calendar" next year to schedule debate on the Senate floor, the West Virginia Democrat noted. Rockefeller said 60 senators favored the legislation last year before Senate Majority Leader Mitchell (D-Maine) persuaded two Democrats to change their yes votes to no, thereby maintaining a filibuster against the bill. The senator pointed out that there are seven Democrat cosponsors in the Senate, and he has commitments of support for the bill from at least five other Democrats the next time the measure is considered by the full Senate. Since the vote last year, "five Democrats who voted no have told me they will vote yes this year." In the House, where 110 members are cosponsors of the legislation, Rockefeller said Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Dingell (D-Mich.) has indicated he will begin hearings by early 1994. In the last two Congresses, Dingell indicated he would wait for the Senate to act on the bill before taking it up in the House. Regarding the Clinton Administration's position on product liability reform, Rockefeller acknowledged that "we obviously don't have a lot of evidence about the President's thinking on this subject." However, the senator pointed out, as governor of Arkansas, Clinton twice voted for uniform national product liability standards. Furthermore, the Administration's "vigorous" endorsement of "malpractice tort reform in the health care area," which goes further than the product liability bill in that it would cap attorneys" fees, "is a chemistry that could be helpful to" supporters of product liability legislation.
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