JEFFERSON CITY — Some Democratic lawmakers accused colleagues of putting business profits ahead of health as the Republican-led House passed legislation Thursday relaxing state regulations on contractors who remove lead-based paint.
The legislation, which would invalidate any state lead abatement rules that are stricter than federal ones, drew vocal support from two Republican lawmakers who are painters and from a third who runs a drywall business. They said Missouri's regulations are driving up business costs and leading homeowners to handle old lead paint themselves, potentially putting more people at risk.
After a testy debate, the House voted 94-59 to send the legislation to the Senate.
Lead was banned in house paint, cookware and products marketed to children in the U.S. in 1978 but can still be found in many older homes. When young children breathe in or swallow lead, it can lead to delays in physical and mental development, lower intelligence, shorter attention spans and behavioral problems. In adults, lead poisoning can cause high blood pressure and damage to the nervous system and stomach.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that took effect April 2010 increased requirements for contractors who perform renovation, repair or painting projects that disturb lead-based paint. Lawmakers involved in the painting business said the new federal rules drew attention to the fact that some of Missouri's existing rules were even more stringent.
In particular, they cited rules by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services prohibiting outdoor lead-abatement projects when winds are at least 10 mph, requiring a lead-abatement supervisor to remain on-site at all times during and mandating contractors notify the state each time their schedule changes for carrying out certain lead-abatement projects.
"My fear is that Missouri's regulations will drive the cost up so high that people won't hire painters to scrape away lead paint," said Rep. Kurt Bahr, a self-employed painting contractor from O'Fallon who does lead abatement. "It will just continue to flake. So it will actually exacerbate the problem."
The bill highlights the fine line between expertise and conflicts of interest that often exists in the Missouri General Assembly. Many lawmakers also hold private-sector jobs because the legislature is in session less than half the year, and they often sponsor or vote on bills related to their field of work.
Bahr said he voted "present" when the House passed the bill to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest. But among those voting for the bill were Rep. Andrew Koenig, who owns a painting company, and Rep. Rick Brattin, a dry wall contractor who said he sometimes encounters lead paint on his projects.
Koenig, of St. Louis County, said his businesses doesn't do lead abatement but his background makes him particularly well suited to sponsor the bill.
Added Brattin, of Harrisonville, "It's an area of expertise. It's not a conflict of interest."
During a confrontational debate with Brattin, state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said the legislation boiled down to "business profit versus health."
"It appears to me as if the individual members who support this change either, A, don't know what lead abatement is all about or, B, happen to be in the profession that does lead abatement and have informed us that it's a little too expensive to follow the rules," Colona said.
Democratic Rep. Jill Schupp, of Creve Coeur, called the legislation an "ill-conceived bill." She warned colleagues: "We have our children's lives at stake when we lessen the restrictions on lead poisoning."