Lobby overdose

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Q: How many drug company lobbyists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: No one knows because they spend all their time screwing us instead.

OK, so it's a bad joke. But not nearly as bad as the one going on in Lansing, where Senate Republicans have managed to keep the manufacturers of dangerous drugs from facing their victims — or the families of deceased victims — in court.

Last February, the Michigan House passed a bill that would overturn a 1996 law that makes it virtually impossible for state residents to file lawsuits against the manufacturers of dangerous prescription drugs.

Since moving to the state Senate, however, the bill has languished. No hearings have been held and no vote has been taken. The prime culprits in this are Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) and Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), chair of the Judiciary Committee, where the bill has been gathering dust.

Critics of the law say no other state provides such sweeping protection to drug companies. As it is now, a Michigan resident can sue only if there's evidence a drug company withheld damaging information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or if the company provided the FDA with false information. And even then, victims or their survivors still have to prove the FDA would have ruled differently.

In a recent opinion piece for The Detroit News, Dan Pero argued that the law is needed to "ensure pharmaceutical research dollars continue to flow into the drug development pipeline, not into the over-stuffed pockets of trial lawyers." Right. We have to protect the good citizens of Michigan from all those evil trial lawyers, who only want to do harm to the kind, generous and benevolent corporations that exist only to benefit humanity.

Now there's a real joke.

Pero is the former chief of staff for John Engler, who signed this pernicious legislation into law when he was still governor back in '96. Pero is president of a nonprofit called the American Justice Partnership, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, which Engler now heads.

Which just goes to show that you don't have to actually be in office to keep on screwing people. That's what lobbyists are for. And the pharmaceutical industry has no shortage of them. According to a coalition of public interest watchdog groups and victims, the drug industry has employed 89 lobbyists from 19 firms to cajole the Michigan Legislature into seeing things their way. That amounts to more than two lobbyists for every state senator.

"For one year the Senate has done the bidding of the drug industry's high-powered lobbyists and allowed Michigan citizens to be treated like guinea pigs and put at risk," Lind Teeter, executive director of the group Michigan Citizen Action, said in a press release sent out last week.

"We're going to keep fighting until this law is repealed," vows Dan Farough, executive director of the group Progress Michigan. "It took us two years to get legislation to do that approved in the House, but we finally did it with bipartisan support. The drug industry is very powerful, but one way or another we're going to get it approved by the Senate as well."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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