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Last-minute lobbying blitz in support of speaker's asbestos liability bill

Anita Kumar

A Fortune 500 company is making an aggressive last-minute push in the final days of the legislative session in support of an bill championed by House Speaker Bill Howell that would help protect it from asbestos lawsuits.

The House of Delegates narrowly passed the bill last month after Howell quietly maneuvered behind the scenes for weeks to have his chamber support the proposal.

Officials with the Philadelphia company, Crown Cork & Seal -- including general counsel William Gallagher and former general counsel Richard Krzyzanowski -- were in Richmond last week personally lobbying senators. Legislators say they were told that the company, the inventor of the bottle cap, may have to close the company's pair of Virginia plants in Winchester and Suffolk, employing 300 workers, if the bill doesn't pass.

Lobbyists for Owens Illinois, a Fortune 500 glass container manufacturer that argues it would pay more in asbestos claims if Crown Cork was no longer held liable, have also been making the rounds to senators.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill, HB629, this afternoon after postponing it several times over the last few weeks. It is the committee's final meeting scheduled this session.

Howell spent weeks maneuvering to have his chamber support the bill -- pleading his case to his caucus behind closed doors, visiting individual delegates to ask them to vote for the bill as a "personal favor" and reshuffling the committee that considered the bill.

The speaker recently completed a term as national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that has been pushing the Crown Cork bill in state legislatures across the nation since 2006. Read the full story on Howell's efforts.

Similar legislation died in the Democratic-controlled Senate last year, and this bill is expected to face a similar fate this year. It is extremely unlikely to get out of the committee, though some Republican senators have indicated they may vote for the bill to support the speaker.

Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax), who serves on the committee, sponsored the bill last year, but said she removed it from consideration after she was approached by a lobbyist for Owens Illinois and learned for the first time that other companies are in similar situations. "I found out the rest of the story,'' she said.

By Anita Kumar  |  March 8, 2010; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , State Senate  
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Comments

The ethics debates regarding aggressive lobbying aside, I wish the issue of asbestos awareness and safety received as much attention as this bill has. If the issue of liability is this important, so too should be the issue of whether or not asbestos should be banned altogether from the U.S.
- JM, http://www.banasbestosnow.com

Posted by: MesoRC | March 8, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Howell is such a low life. Its freaking asbestos. Either clean it up or deal with the consequences. No company should be immune.

Posted by: BurtReynolds | March 8, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

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