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McConnell Demands Liability Protections in Next Coronavirus Bill

April 27, 2020, 9:06 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday the next coronavirus relief legislation must include liability protections for business owners who reopen and indicated he would be open to some aid for beleaguered states.

The House and Senate both plan to convene in Washington on May 4 and resume business with the expectation of additional action to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has shut down businesses and thrown millions of people out of work.

As some states begin gradually lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions, McConnell said that without protection from lawsuits, business owners could end up with years of legal claims over their efforts to restart the economy.

“Our response must not be slowed, weakened or exploited to set up the biggest trial lawyer bonanza in history,” he said in a statement.

The declaration is the latest marker put down by McConnell before the next and possibly last relief package before the November election. He also warned Democrats against adding liberal “wish lists” to the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants the House to take the lead in writing the next pandemic response package and is headed for a clash with McConnell over what to include. One flashpoint is sure to be over aid to states and cities faced with falling tax revenue and escalating expenses because of the pandemic. The National Governors Association has said states need at least $500 billion in assistance.

Earlier: Pelosi, McConnell Set to Collide on Follow-Up to $3 Trillion Aid

McConnell has taken credit for blocking aid to state and local governments sought by Democrats in last week’s $484 billion rescue package. He said last week he wasn’t interested in the federal government providing “revenue replacement” to states that are struggling to fulfill obligations for public employee pensions and that they should be allowed to declare bankruptcy.

In his statement Monday, McConnell said Congress can’t get distracted by “calls to paper over decades of reckless decisions that had nothing to do with Covid-19.”

But in a later interview on Fox News Radio, McConnell said he anticipates there will be additional aid for state and local governments in the next aid package, but he wants to ensure those funds aren’t used to address pension shortfalls or other “past mistakes.”

McConnell also said he “wasn’t recommending” that states declare bankruptcy, just that they should have the option.

Earlier: Ending Virus Shutdowns Too Soon Poses Legal Risk for Businesses

McConnell in the interview characterized his demand for liability protections for small firms as his “red line” for the next bill. Otherwise, he said, those helping to restart the economy will face “an avalanche” of lawsuits from plaintiffs’ lawyers.

With testing still limited and no vaccine on the immediate horizon, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged government protection for businesses, warning that personal-injury lawsuits could bankrupt firms.

In his statement on the Senate returning to business, McConnell said the Senate will modify its routines “in ways that are smart and safe” so members can “conduct critical business in person.”

“If it is essential for doctors, nurses, health care workers, truck drivers, grocery-store workers, and many other brave Americans to keep carefully manning their own duty stations, then it is essential for senators to carefully man ours and support them,” he said.

Separately, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Democrats on a conference call Monday that the House would be in session next week and that votes may be held.

(updated with new 2nd paragraph to reflect House return.)

To contact the reporters on this story:
Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;
Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;
Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net

Laurie Asséo

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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