Once again, Utah lawmakers are sponsoring a bill in Congress seeking compensation for Utahns and others stricken by cancer as a result of being exposed to years of open-air atomic tests three decades ago. Let's hope Congress finally pays attention.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Orrin Hatch in the Senate and Democrat Wayne Owens in the House, would set up a $100 million trust fund. It would at least begin to compensate both uranium miners and those in southern Nevada, southern Utah, and northeastern Arizona - called downwinders because prevailing winds blew radioactive dust in their direction after every open-air nuclear blast in Nevada.Despite clear evidence that federal officials knew of the danger and failed to warn people, higher courts have overturned lower court judgments in favor of the victims on the grounds that federal law shields the government from lawsuits. With that avenue closed, Congress should take action to fairly compensate those people for the sickness and lost lives due to radioactive fallout from the tests.

There are strong precedents for such action. Congress voted compensation for Japanese-Americans locked up in relocation camps during World War II. It approved assistance for veterans exposed to radiation while on duty. It granted payments to residents of Pacific Islands affected by atomic testing.

Yet it has turned its back on innocent American citizens who have sickened and died after being exposed to fallout from atomic tests in the 1950s and early 1960s. Congress has failed to act in spite of a House subcommittee conclusion 10 years ago that "sufficient evidence exists for the federal government to accept at least compassionate responsibility."

Opponents don't want the federal government to be subject to liability lawsuits for its policy decisions and actions. But the government already has compensated others injured by its officials actions. Why can't the victims of atomic test fallout get the same consideration?

That question has been asked repeatedly over the years. Maybe this time the issue will get out of committee, where it has been buried year after year. Utahns and other victims deserve to be compensated for what they have suffered - in Hatch's words - as "forgotten guinea pigs."