NH House panel OKs lead abatement bill with financial aid for landlords

Measure would appropriate $3 million for remediation fund

A bill that would result in the abatement of lead in a lot more apartments across New Hampshire, and would give landlords some money to do it, easily cleared its first hurdle in the NH House Tuesday.

Senate Bill 247 doesn’t change the lead levels (10 micrograms per deciliter) that require landlords to test, and perhaps mitigate, the lead, in their apartments with children, but it does require universal testing for children between the age of 1 and 2. More tests will likely mean more positive tests, triggering more abatements, either as a requirement, if the level exceeds the threshold, or as a precaution, if the level nears it.

But SB 247 would set aside $3 million to reimburse landlords for 75 percent of abatement cost, and the total cost if the property owner can demonstrate financial need. The landlord can also see if the lead is coming from the water, which can often be abated by a simple filter.

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee rejected an amendment that would have tinkered with the “early warning” level – 3 micrograms – at which landlords would be notified so they could take action to head off the 10-microgram threshold level.

Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, proposed an amendment that would set the warning level determined by the Centers for Disease Control, which would be somewhere between 2 and 3 micrograms, but Rep. Mindi Messmer, D-Rye, worried that the proposal would “undermine the bill, because it will upset the apple cart.”

Committee Chair Rep. Frank Kotowski, R-Hooksett, agreed. “This is the standard that everyone bought into.”

But not everyone on the committee was buying into the bill.

Rep. Jim Fedolfi, R-Hillsboro, said he had no problem with universal testing, but thought that $3 million appropriated would not come near to the actual cost. Besides, it should be the landlord’s responsibility, not taxpayers.

Fedolfi called SB 248 a “landlord recovery bill,” allowing owners to “refurbish their apartments on the state’s dime” and a “free ticket for the landlord who is getting rich and doing well and now using our money to help them.”

But Fedolfi was the lone voice of protest.

Others argued that it was important to get the landlords on the board for the sake of the children, as well as for economic reasons, noting that the mental health, special education and criminal justice costs caused by lead poisoning is much greater than the cost to remediate it.

“This is one of the few instances where the state will take a bold step, said Rep. John Fothergill, R-Colebrook. “We will be putting our money where our mouth is. It is not enough money, but it is still a start.”

The bill passed the committee on a 19-1 vote and was placed on next week’s consent calendar, meaning the measure is likely headed for approval.

However, the bill would then be headed to the House Finance Committee, which is where it will really be decided whether states money will be put behind the policy proposed in the bill.

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