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Wednesday, April 13, 2005; Page A05

Asbestos Liability Bill Near Completion

Legislation aimed at ending asbestos liability lawsuits in exchange for a $140 billion victims trust fund is near completion, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said yesterday.

The Senate has been stuck for years on how much money insurers and business groups should put into a trust fund in exchange for ending the lawsuits. In exchange for the fund, asbestos victims would surrender their right to sue.

After negotiations with all sides, Specter said he is likely to move forward soon with a compromise that could get enough support from Democrats and Republicans.

"I'm more than hopeful, I'm optimistic we'll have a bill which will get out of committee and beyond," Specter said.

Specter said he will present the bill to Democrats and Republicans this week.

Senators say asbestos liability is driving companies out of business and leaving victims with little or no money for medical bills. The bill would pay from $35,000 to more than $1 million to victims of diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. The latest draft eliminates compensation to anyone, including smokers, who cannot prove that asbestos caused diseases such as lung cancer, Specter told reporters.

The proposal bars "compensation for all individuals who do not have markers from asbestos," Specter said. Victims must prove "a clear line that their cancer was caused by asbestos," he added.

Sharon Urged Bush To Pressure Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon discussed the Iranian nuclear threat with President Bush at the president's ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Monday, urging him to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear program and saying that European efforts to curb the program have been ineffective.

Sharon's military secretary, Yoav Galant, presented Bush with Israeli intelligence on Iran's nuclear program, including satellite photographs, the officials said. Israeli intelligence officials believe that Iran has not yet produced a nuclear weapon but is on the cusp of doing so.

In a meeting yesterday with newspaper editors, Sharon brushed off Bush's warning about further West Bank settlement growth, indicating that Israel will continue to solidify its hold on areas it considers of strategic importance.

Sharon also reiterated his call for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to take stronger steps to curb militants.

"I have known him for many years. There is no doubt he represents a departure from Yasser Arafat's strategy of terror," Sharon said, according to a senior Israeli official. "But he must take additional steps to disarm terror organizations, stop incitement, or we can't move forward from the pre-road-map stage."

GOP Defeats Bill on Veterans' Health Care

Republicans beat back a Democratic attempt to provide almost $2 billion in additional health care funding for veterans, rejecting claims that Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are in crisis.

The proposal was part of an $80.6 billion emergency spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other costs. The bill would give President Bush slightly less than the $82 billion he sought. It is also less than the $81.4 billion approved by the House.

The Senate's Republican leaders hoped to have the bill approved by the end of the week and ready for Bush's signature by the end of the month. But the timing of the bill has become uncertain, with Senate leaders dealing with stacks of amendments and a possible battle over immigration restrictions.

-- From News Services

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