...Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Now it’s time for the House to finish the job and take back our civil justice system from plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking jackpot justice."

Design and construction firms may be among the biggest beneficiaries if the legal reforms become law. The American Council of Engineering Companies supports the Senate plan, but wants additional changes. "But this is a good first step," says Steve Hall, the council's vice president for government affairs, speaking before the Senate action.

This is not the first time lawmakers have considered tort reform, but the mood in Congress has shifted this year. Six of the nine newly elected senators had favorable voting records on tort reform, from industry's point of view, when they served in the House. The case for change was further strengthened in a plea from President Bush in his Feb. 2 State of the Union address.

The Senate bill, introduced by Iowa's Chuck Grassley (R) Jan. 25, was quickly approved by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 3. When it reached the Senate floor it seemed to be on a fast track to passage "We need to put an end to the frivolous litigation tax that everyone ends up paying," Grassley said.