WASHINGTON — Legislation offering liability protection to biomaterials manufacturers hit a roadblock July 9 when the larger bill it was a part of was stopped in a political squabble in the Senate.
The larger bill — a product liability effort — fell victim to fighting over health-care legislation and, Democrats charged, to efforts by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., to sneak in an amendment to protect firms that supply materials for medical tubing and intravenous bags.
Lott's language had been pushed by Deerfield, Ill., Baxter Healthcare Corp. because its suppliers are concerned about liability for selling materials that come into contact with body fluids, said Baxter spokeswoman Deborah Spak. Baxter has a manufacturing facility in Cleveland, Miss.
The Baxter amendment would have expanded language already in the bill giving liability protection to companies that supply materials for implantable medical devices, Spak said.
Baxter does not face an immediate crisis, but wants the legislation because getting government approval for medical products can take several years, she said.
A Lott spokesman said the bill is ``pretty much dead at this point,'' but said there is a slim chance the biomaterials provisions could move separately.
Lott spokesman John Czwartacki said Democrats' argument that Lott's amendments played a role in killing the bill are an excuse for Democrats who opposed it at the behest of trial lawyers. The White House accepted Lott's amendment, he said.
Democrats held the bill up mainly because they want a vote on patient-rights legislation, said Victor Schwartz, counsel for the Washington-based Product Liability Coordinating Committee, a business lobby.
If the patient-rights legislation gets a vote, the product liability bill may come up again, he said. Clinton vetoed product liability legislation in 1996, but this new version was considered to have a strong shot at passing because it has both the support of the White House and broad, bipartisan favor in Congress.
Schwartz said efforts to pass product liability legislation also have been hurt by 11th-hour splits in the business community. The Chemical Manufacturers Association in Arlington, Va., came out in opposition in late June because, it said, the bill weakens suppliers' legal defenses.
The Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. supports the biomaterials provisions and other aspects, but has not lobbied actively on the bill, SPI officials said. Many CMA members belong to SPI.
The biomaterials legislation is moving on its own through House committees, but in the past has not had strong enough support to get full passage.