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Landmark Bill Would Reveal Secretive Lawsuit Funding

Remember in the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulled back the curtain to expose the manipulating Wizard who then said, “Pay no attention?”

Well, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced legislation on Thursday to pull back the curtain on secretive lawsuit funding and abusive lawsuit lending.

The legislation would help rein in lawsuit lending – “up-front” cash to individual plaintiffs to cover immediate living or medical expenses during litigation. The loans typically contain sky-high interest rates that can leave borrowers with little to no recovery, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform said. The practice prolongs litigation and distorts justice by inserting a third party into a case that compromises the interests of the litigants.

The Business Council of Alabama for years has advocated regulating lawsuit lending. The Senate Litigation Funding Transparency Act (LFTA) is a landmark bill that will help bring multi-billion dollar litigation financing into the open.

The legislation would disclose third party “gambling” on the outcome of class-action lawsuits and federal multi-district litigation, a practice that turns courtrooms into casinos and plaintiffs into little more than poker chips, according to the Institute for Legal Reform.

The bill targets third-party litigation funding involving hedge funds investing in lawsuits in return for a portion of any settlement or judgment. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote that third-party lawsuit funding is “a billion-dollar business.” One of the largest funders alone boasts $3.3 billion in funds either invested or available for investment.

The bill would require parties to make these deals transparent in any federal class action lawsuit or multi-district litigation proceeding.

The bill’s introduction signals that key senators realize the dangers that secretive lawsuit funding deals pose to fairness and justice. The time has come to bring these arrangements into the sunlight, and the LFTA would do just that, the U.S. Chamber said.


HOUSE APPROVES NEVADA NUCLEAR WASTE SITE PROJECT

The U.S. House voted Thursday to advance a process toward building the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada that would store the nation’s radioactive nuclear waste, The Hill reported. (Alabama has two nuclear plants with on-site storage of spent fuel.)

The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin of 340 to 72. Alabama’s House members voted for the bill.

It sets a path for the Department of Energy (DOE) to resume the process of planning for and building the Nevada site, transfer land for it to the DOE, ease the federal funding mechanism, and allow DOE to build or license a temporary site to store waste while the Yucca project is being planned and built, The Hill said.

Some lawmakers said that spent nuclear fuel stored at operating or closed power plants in their districts ought to be at a centrally located facility designed for long-term storage. About 120 communities host radioactive waste storage.

Congress in 1982 established a federal nuclear site to store the nation’s waste from nuclear weapons development, nuclear power, and other uses, and tasked the DOE to find a location. In 1987, Congress said the Yucca site is the only option.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Chairman Shelby Takes on an Appropriations Culture Problem
Alabama Daily News (Stacy 5/8) “When Congress passed the omnibus spending bill in March, it was the latest verse in a familiar and frustrating song for modern budgeting in Washington, D.C. Too much was spent, too little oversight was applied, and too few lawmakers participated in crafting the final proposal appropriating $1.3 trillion to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year.

“Enter Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, whose ascent to the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee came in the wake of the omnibus. Instead of looking back and re-opening the omnibus, Shelby is looking ahead and attempting to fix the underlying problems that cause these last-minute budget windfalls. ‘I agree with President Trump that Congress needs to send him individual bills passed through regular order,’ Shelby said in April after meeting with Appropriations Committee members to discuss a way forward.

“What’s Shelby’s plan? If all senators in both parties agree to hold off on the objections and filibuster threats, appropriations bills can come to the floor for full debate. ‘If we come out of the committee working in a bipartisan way, I’m hoping that that will help expedite the bills. That nobody would filibuster the bills, the motion to proceed, Shelby told Washington reporters last week.

“To enlist support, Shelby is talking to Republican and Democratic Senators on the Appropriations Committee, as well as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his vice chairman on the committee, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. He’s also taking advantage of growing frustration over the also-broken Senate confirmations process to get the body to address both problems. ‘Every American would benefit from Congress getting its act together on federal spending and moving the Appropriations process forward as it was intended,’ Senator Shelby told Alabama Daily News. ‘Alabamians understand the value of a dollar and they don’t want to see their taxes go to waste. That’s important to me, and it’s important for the future of our country.'”

House to Vote on Food Stamp Revision Next Week
The Hill (Zanona 5/10) “The House will vote on a GOP farm bill next week that would impose tougher work requirements on food stamp recipients. The revamp of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is considered a legacy item for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has sought to enact welfare reform as part of his ‘Better Way’ agenda.

“The farm bill includes language that would tighten the work requirements for millions of food stamp recipients and shift more federal funding toward job training. The thinking is that this will help lift people out of poverty and get welfare recipients back on their feet.

“Under the measure, all able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59 have to be working or enrolled in a training program for at least 20 hours per week in order to qualify for food stamps. People who are elderly, disabled or pregnant would be exempt from the requirements.”

Trump Seeks $15 billion in Spending Cuts
Washington Post (Paletta, Werner 5/7) “President Trump is sending a plan to Congress that calls for stripping more than $15 billion in previously approved spending, with the hope that it will temper conservative angst over ballooning budget deficits. Almost half of the proposed cuts would come from two accounts within the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) … [a]n additional $800 million in cuts would come from money created by the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to test innovative payment and service delivery models.

“If approved by Congress, the reductions would represent less than 0.4 percent of total government spending this year. White House officials insisted that the CHIP cuts would not affect access to health care, but they have already appeared to serve as a rallying cry for Democrats to mobilize opposition. Republicans have a very thin majority in the Senate and would probably need near-unanimous support from their caucus to pass the bill.

“White House officials and GOP leaders said the package of proposed cuts could begin to signal to conservatives that they are now taking steps to reverse a free-spending fiscal approach they have embraced since Trump took office. Conservatives erupted in March after Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending package that included a number of budget requests from Democrats, and they pushed for a rescission package to pare it back between $30 billion and $60 billion.”

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