- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday announced that he is spearheading a package of liability reforms to protect the health care industry and businesses form COVID-19 lawsuits when the economy reopens.

He said protecting businesses from an onslaught of lawsuits whenever someone gets sick was key to pulling the country out of an economic free fall in which more than 33 million Americans lost jobs since the outbreak began.

“If we want even an outside shot at the kind of brisk rehiring that American workers deserve, we have to make sure opportunistic trial lawyers are not lurking on the sidewalk outside every small business in America, waiting to slap them with a lawsuit the instant they turn the lights back on,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor.

The move put the GOP-led Senate on a collision course with the Democratic-led House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is preparing a fourth coronavirus spending bill expected to top $2 trillion without liability reforms.

The House Democrats are expected to unveil their new economic rescue bill as soon as Tuesday.

Tort reform has long been a partisan flashpoint, but the ongoing public health and economic emergency inflame the issue.

Mr. McConnell, who previously called liability reform a “red line” for any additional coronavirus spending, said the House appeared to be using the crisis as an excuse to cobble together a liberal wish list of spending items.

“The American people don’t need a far-left transformation,” he said. “They just need a path back to the historically prosperous and optimistic moment they had built for themselves until about 12 weeks ago.”

President Trump has voiced support for giving business protection against COVID-19 lawsuits.

For Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, it is a non-starter.

“We have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this. So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability,” she said recently.

Opponents of liability reforms also argue that the threat of lawsuits motivates business owners to adopt robust safety measures.

A group of 21 attorneys general from Republican-led states on Tuesday urged Congress to enact liability reforms.

In a letter to Senate leaders of both parties, they vouched for the need to provide post-pandemic liability protections at the state and federal levels for businesses, manufacturers of personal protective equipment, first responders, health care workers, health care facilities and members of law enforcement, among others.

“Our economy will only recover if customers, employees and businesses alike have confidence to return to the marketplace,” said Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who led the group. “As attorneys general, we ensure our states have a legal and regulatory environment that protects consumers and allows the free enterprise system to thrive. It is in keeping with this mission that we are calling on Congress to ensure that those businesses that have engaged in best practices and followed federal and state guidance for safe and appropriate operations as a result of this pandemic will be protected from baseless litigation regarding COVID-related claims.”

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