Influencing Healthy Homes Public Policy: Maine’s New Lead Law

This past June, the State of Maine Legislature passed LD1115 - An Act to Make the State's Standard for Lead Exposure in Children Consistent with the Federal Standard. This is groundbreaking legislation that firmly establishes the State of Maine as a national public health leader, by being the first state in the country to establish the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) blood lead reference level of 5 µg/dl for children as the State’s official action level for lead environmental investigation.

The Maine CDC responds to cases where children under age 6 are identified with lead poisoning by conducting an environmental investigation in the property of the lead poisoned child. By correlating Maine’s action level for environmental investigation with the CDC reference level, Maine CDC will now be conducting environmental investigation at 5 µg/dl. Previously, the intervention threshold for environmental investigation across the State of Maine was 15 µg/dl, with the exception of five lead target areas (designated as high-risk areas of childhood lead poisoning), where the threshold was 10 µg/dl. This drop in the intervention threshold is expected to increase the number of investigations across the State by ten-fold. A greater volume of investigations will help prevent children from being poisoned with higher blood lead levels, and is one important step toward protecting Maine’s children from lead hazards.

Along with the new intervention threshold, the Bill provides new enforcement authority that has the potential to deter building owners from avoiding abatement orders. Maine CDC will now have the ability to levy fines against any individual who is in violation of the Maine Lead Poisoning Control Act, and these fines may be up to $500 per violation, per day. If there are multiple violations existing within an individual dwelling unit, a daily fine will be issued for each separate violation. All the fines collected from these violations will be deposited into the Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund to support continued lead efforts throughout the state.

In light of this major advancement, GHHI hosted a webinar to celebrate the passage of LD1115 and to discuss best practices in influencing healthy homes public policy. The webinar featured Greg Payne, Director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and GHHI President and CEO, Ruth Ann Norton. This was a lively discussion that reflected on the strategies that worked in Maine, and the challenges that remain for implementation of the new law.

During the discussion, Payne explained that the successful passage of the law was largely a function of bipartisan political leadership, and the use of strategic legislative sponsors. The Bill was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Amy Volk of Scarborough, and Democratic Representative Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston. Supporting these sponsors was a network of committed advocates who testified on behalf of the bill, with no other groups offering dissenting voices. Additionally, local partners and supporters of the Bill worked diligently to educate the Legislature and the general public about childhood lead poisoning and the impact and importance of passing LD1115 for the State.

Payne went on to say that there is still more work to be done in Maine. The future success of the law will depend on diligent monitoring of its roll-out and implementation. For the law to go into effect, the first step is rule-making, to create administrative protocols for these significant changes in Maine CDC’s operations. This will be followed by the hiring of eight new lead investigators. The hiring of these positions could be held up through a number of intentional or unintentional mechanisms, making the implementation of the law difficult. Other suggestions that Payne offered were that there will need to be continued bipartisanship in the Legislature, and that the story of this new law accomplishes over time will need to be told.

Ruth Ann Norton spoke more generally about where public policy fits into a larger, comprehensive strategy for change. Policy change is essential in addressing childhood lead poisoning but it cannot stand alone. Other mechanisms for change include increased capacity for primary intervention, increased enforcement of lead safe laws, increased public education and awareness, establishing an effective relocation program, creating functional sustainable partnerships and leveraging private resources (Windows of Opportunity Comprehensive Action Plan, 2000). Norton also explained the need to bring together a network of local, state and federal partners to push change forward. Collaboration between partners is a central tenet of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative’s model, and has been at the root of legislative progress across GHHI’s sites nationally.

For full information on LD1115, visit the Maine Legislature website

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