City officials may oppose lead paint legislation

Lawmakers resist Ehrlich plan to cut Baltimore enforcement

State says its program better than city's

General Assembly

February 16, 2005|By Ivan Penn and Tom Pelton | Ivan Penn and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore lawmakers said yesterday that they will oppose Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s lead paint legislation unless he restores the $375,000 he cut from the city's lead paint enforcement funds in his proposed budget.

Their criticism came as opponents - and some supporters - say they want to see the bill amended, arguing it could let landlords skirt requirements to clean up properties with lead paint problems.

"There are some places in the bill that we think need to be better," said Mark Sissman, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, which is backing the bill in principle. "We've come a long way; we're not going to give ground."

Ehrlich's bill would require earlier action to treat children with lead poisoning and to reduce lead hazards in housing once a child has been poisoned.

It also would lower the lead level in a child's blood required to trigger notices to a landlord of the need to address lead paint problems. Also, it would lower the blood-lead level that requires a landlord to pay for treatment and relocation expenses for poisoned children.

Some opponents, however, have said the legislation would give landlords a longer grace period to clean up lead paint problems for which they have been cited.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat and one of the city's leading advocates in Annapolis for tougher lead paint regulations - and a co-sponsor of the governor's bill - said the proposed cuts to the city's budget jeopardize Ehrlich's bill even before it receives a thorough legislative review.

"I can't support the bill until the budget provisions are resolved," he said, echoing the view of other city lawmakers, including Baltimore Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, who also has taken a leading role in combating lead poisoning.

Yesterday, Ehrlich administration officials argued that while the city program was cut, the state shifted $140,000 to more efficient lead enforcement efforts by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"It is no longer acceptable to judge a program solely by the money it receives ... but by its progress," said MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick, who joined other administration officials at a news conference to defend the governor's efforts. "MDE's program has proved substantially more effective than Baltimore City's, by enforcing [actions against] more housing units."

MDE has filed 790 notices of violation and enforcement actions since 2002; the city has filed 655 during that period, Philbrick said.

Philbrick also said the administration made cuts of about $230,000 in lead enforcement programs overall, which will mean two fewer lead inspectors statewide.

"The governor has inherited a terrible fiscal crisis in the state, and all things must be balanced in terms of funding. ... But I do not believe the children are at risk," Philbrick said.

Lawmakers and Baltimore officials rejected those arguments.

"It's penny-stupid - not even penny-wise - and pound-foolish to make these cuts," said Dr. Peter S. Beilenson, the city's health commissioner. "It's going to sentence hundreds of city kids to being lead-poisoned when they don't have to be."

Beilenson said the city is losing an enforcement lawyer and six inspectors to the budget cuts and called it "preposterous" to think the state could perform the same services as the city with less money.

Oaks added: "The biggest problem with the lead issue to date is the governor withholding the [money] for enforcement. To take away the enforcement is like going to a dinner to eat steak with no teeth."

Horacio Tablada, director of the MDE office that oversees the agency's lead enforcement, said state funding for the city's program began in 2000 under the administration of then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening. It was to have expired in fiscal 2003, Tablada said, and the Ehrlich administration continued funding in the next two fiscal years.

"Basically, the city had the obligation to come up with its own funding on this" and did not, Tablada said.

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