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Most anti-lead poisoning legislation fails in Maryland General Assembly

Most bills targeting child lead poisoning failed this General Assembly session, but advocates say they're encouraged by some successes.

Lawmakers chose not to pass legislation to open up manufacturers of lead paint to new lawsuits; increase registration fees landlords pay to hire more lead inspectors; and require construction companies demolishing homes to post notices, get permits and comply with certain health standards.

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"Once again, we failed children in failing to pass any significant lead bill," said state Del. Jill P. Carter, the lead sponsor of the Maryland Lead Poisoning Recovery Act. "It's a shame. It's a disservice to society."

Even so, advocates said they're encouraged that a bill passed that's intended to curb the practice of companies taking advantage of families who have won lead poisoning judgments.

The Structured Settlement Reform Act creates safeguards for families who face "possible exploitation" when offered immediate cash in exchange for a stream of payments obtained through the settlement of a personal injury lawsuit, including for lead poisoning, according to the attorney general's office, which backed the bill.

The legislation requires that a court determine the transfer is in the victim's best interest and companies that engage in the practice register with the state.

"We made great progress this year protecting Marylanders from unscrupulous financial practices that exploit some of our most vulnerable residents," Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement.

State Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, the lead sponsor of the bill, said it is among several successes this year — even though most lead poisoning legislation failed.

He said the Maryland Department of the Environment has agreed to issue a report on how to better share information with the Rent Court system to prevent evictions from homes with chipping and peeling lead paint. And a budget measure asks Gov. Larry Hogan to allocate $500,000 from the Medicaid program for lead remediation activities in the homes of Medicaid children with an unsafe blood lead level.

"Although no legislation will be enacted this session regarding lead poisoning, we have taken several steps to strengthen enforcement of existing laws," Rosenberg wrote in an email.

Ruth Ann Norton, a longtime advocate on lead-poisoning issues, said advocates spent much time during the session working to defeat a bill that would have required some properties to undergo fewer inspections for lead paint. Norton added that the $500,000 in Medicaid funding that Rosenberg has advocated for could prove "ground-breaking" in the war against lead poisoning nationally.

In December, The Baltimore Sun reported that at least 37,500 Baltimore children have been poisoned in the past two decades in part because of lax enforcement of state laws.

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