A bill that would change the way asbestos claims are handled in the United States has made its way out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (FAIR) Act of 2003 proposes the establishment of a special court to handle all asbestos claims, as well as a trust fund (early reports put it in the neighborhood of $100 billion) to settle those claims.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced the bill. In a statement before the Senate, he referred to the nation's "asbestos litigation crisis." He went on to state that "non-sick claimants will no longer deplete resources that should pay the truly sick victims." Earlier, he implied that some companies had been sued and punished despite "little, if any, culpability." His aim, he said, is to pay claimants fairly and quickly, while also protecting companies from going bankrupt -- and saving the jobs of those who work there.

The FAIR Act, as proposed, would establish certain medical criteria that claimants would need to meet in order to be eligible for monetary compensation. Defendants in asbestos litigation would contribute to the trust fund based on prior restitution payments.

Margarita Tapia, a spokesperson for Hatch, said that it was unknown as to when the bill -- currently pending on the Senate floor -- would be addressed.