Lead paint 'compromise' draws fire

March 16, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

Legislative efforts to prevent lead poisoning in Maryland while preserving low-income housing seemed in jeopardy yesterday.

Children's advocates and others accused Gov. William Donald Schaefer's administration of wrecking its own bill by making needless concessions to landlords.

The governor's forces still hope to work things out before the end of the General Assembly, but the Schaefer tactics are drawing heavy fire.

Even the chairman of the governor's lead paint poisoning commission blasted the new "compromise" bill that the administration has floated recently in Annapolis. He said the measure gives landlords "something for nothing" at the expense of lead-poisoned children.

"The cure outlined in this latest proposal is worse than the illness," Donald G. Gifford, the panel's chairman, said in a letter to the governor.

Mr. Gifford, dean of the University of Maryland law school, said in an interview that parts of the revised bill are "fundamentally unfair" to children at risk of lead poisoning in older rental housing.

"This new compromise proposal is just a travesty," agreed Ruth Ann Norton, director of the Coalition Against Childhood Lead Poisoning. She accused state officials of caving in to Baltimore landlords' "greed," and she warned that health advocates would try to kill the bill unless their concerns are addressed.

But lobbyists for the administration and for city landlords defended the compromise, saying it is better than doing nothing for another year. With the backing of Baltimore housing officials, who contend that lead-paint concerns force the abandonment of inner-city rental homes, the Schaefer administration has proposed shielding landlords from costly lawsuits filed by their tenants.

In return, property owners would have to make modest repairs to reduce lead hazards whenever tenants move out. But the governor's latest plan would give landlords up to 10 years to fix all their properties.

Critics say a decade is too long. They contend that children still can be poisoned in homes that have been treated, because landlords won't agree to inspections every year or two afterward.

Richard A. Montgomery, an administration lobbyist, defended the bill, saying the governor was trying to strike a balance between the conflicting interests of potentially lead-poisoned children and the owners of older rental housing, who say they are being driven out of business by mounting legal claims.

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