I’m not sure what’s more frustrating: Democrats’ inability to use the power voters handed them, or their refusal to?
Take for example state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, who as chair of the House Committee on Judiciary has the power to kill any bill coming before his committee, simply by refusing to bring it up for a vote. Some might find that a little undemocratic, but that’s the way our legislative system works, and that’s why winning and holding majorities are so important — the majority party gets to appoint the committee chairs, and thus control the agenda.
And regardless of party, committee chairs tend to be pretty damn thorough in asserting this power. If you don’t enjoy the support of the chair, your bill is dead. Simple as that. But not, apparently, if the chair is Rep. Pedersen, at least when it comes to HB 2507, special legislation limiting asbestos related claims against a single, out-of-state corporation.
According to the House Bill Report, HB 2507 would have the following effect:
A corporation that assumed or incurred asbestos-related liabilities before January 1, 1972 as a result of a merger or consolidation with another corporation has limited asbestos-related liability. The cumulative successor asbestos-related liability is limited to the fair market value of the total gross assets of the predecessor corporation.
In reality, this bill was narrowly crafted to benefit only one corporation, Pennsylvania based Crown Holdings, a company with 2008 revenues of over $7.7 billion, and annual asbestos liability expenses of only $53 million, worldwide. If enacted, the bill would exempt Crown from any further liability stemming from its 1965 merger with Mundet Cork Corporation, and that company’s asbestos insulation that was widely used at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and other Washington state facilities.
The bill would cost our state’s workers compensation fund about $600,000 between now and 2015, while denying any future claims from workers who were harmed by the product. With Washington ranking 7th in the nation in asbestos related deaths, and King County ranking 4th nationally on a per capita basis, that would leave untold numbers of local workers unable to recover damages.
But that’s neither here nor there. This kind of corporate favoritism is common in both parties (just take a look at our state’s tax code), the common good be damned. But what’s not so common is the way Rep. Pedersen, as chair, has publicly postured his opposition to the bill (he voted against it) while allowing it to pass his committee.
In an email to a constituent, Rep. Pedersen voiced his concern that the bill would reduce compensation to injured workers, yet explained his actions as such:
A majority of members of my committee (seven of eleven) support the bill. So I concluded that I would not stand in the way of a vote on the bill and would let its fate be decided by the larger body. If it is any consolation, I think it is extremely unlikely that the bill will pass out of the Senate.
Yes, a majority of his committee supported the bill, including all three of the Republicans present, but a majority of Democrats did not. And yet Rep. Pedersen allowed the bill to pass this major legislative hurdle.
One can only assume that either Rep. Pedersen is a crappy politician when comes to effective execution of political power, or that as a corporate attorney himself, he’s actually being a bit disingenuous in stating his opposition to the bill.
Either way, he doesn’t come off looking so good.