Under the Dome

Product liability protection bill returns in NC Senate committee

Three years ago state legislators considered a bill that would have given unprecedented immunity from liability in lawsuits to the manufacturers of any product approved by a federal regulator. At the time, John Del Giorno, an executive with RTP-based GlaxoSmithKline, spoke in favor of protections for the manufacturers of FDA-approved drugs, in order to make the legal system fairer and more predictable for business.

Del Giorno was back before a General Assembly committee on Thursday pitching the same idea – this time as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America.

The idea for the bill came from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that privately crafts conservative model bills on a wide range of topics. It has come under fire by liberal groups in recent years for its secretive influence on public policy.

North Carolina has long been connected to ALEC. Del Giorno has served on one of the group’s national boards – as has his current employer, former state Rep. Harold Brubaker, who now runs a lobbying firm.

That 2011 product protection bill was introduced the day after an ALEC “boot camp” was held for legislators in Raleigh. The bill was later narrowed to protect only drug makers, and later even that provision was stripped out.

Now the idea is back in a bill – SB648 – that is under discussion in a Senate judiciary committee. The product-protection provision is only one of several parts to the bill, which has already generated skepticism from some committee members.

The committee discussed it on Tuesday, heard pros and cons from the public on Thursday, and is expected to take up the bill again next week. It’s not certain it will make it out of the committee.