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U.S. lawmakers plan bill to encourage auto employees to report faulty parts

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[November 20, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators plan to introduce legislation on Thursday to encourage employees in the auto industry to report information on faulty parts to federal authorities, a spokeswoman for one of the lawmakers said.

The bill, sponsored by Republican John Thune and Democrat Bill Nelson, "is intended to incentivize whistleblowers from the automotive sector to voluntarily provide information to the U.S. Department of Transportation to prevent deaths and serious physical injuries by identifying problems much earlier than would have otherwise been possible," Thune's spokeswoman, AshLee Strong said.

The measure will cover “original information” not previously known to the government "relating to any motor vehicle defect, noncompliance, or any violation of any reporting requirement that is likely to cause risk of death or serious physical injury," Strong's statement added.

The Senate holds a hearing on Thursday into how regulators and the auto industry have handled a rapidly expanding recall of millions of potentially defective air bags manufactured by Japan's Takata Corp.

Safety advocates have criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not responding more quickly to years of evidence about the deadly defect.

The top U.S. auto safety regulator was similarly criticized for its sluggish response to more than a decade of evidence that millions of General Motors Co vehicles were equipped with a potentially deadly ignition switch flaw.

Under the Thune-Nelson bill, the transportation secretary would have the discretion to award whistleblowers up to 30 percent of monetary penalties from U.S. enforcement actions totaling more than $1 million. The measure would cover employees or contractors of automakers, parts suppliers and dealerships.

(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Ken Wills)

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