McKee signs legislation strengthening lead enforcement  

GOV. MCKEE ON TUESDAY signed a trio of bills into law that strengthen enforcement of the state's lead mitigation statutes./PBN FILE PHOTO

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Daniel J. McKee on Tuesday signed several bills into law, among them part of a legislative package of lead poisoning prevention measures introduced at the request of R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha. 

The first is legislation sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, and Deputy Majority Whip Mia Ackerman that establishes a statewide landlord registry with the R.I. Department of Health and requires owners of non-exempt buildings built prior to 1978 to file lead conformance certificates. 

A second bill sponsored by Sen. Tiara Mack, D-Providence, and Rep. David Morales, D-Providence, allows renters to put rent into an escrow account if there are unaddressed lead hazards in their homes. Landlords will not be able to access the funds until they address the lead hazards. A third bill allows victims of childhood lead poisoning to recover up to three times their actual damages if their landlord is found to have violated state lead safety laws.

In a June 14 statement after lawmaker’s approval, Neronha said his office will finally have “the tools we need to enforce compliance with these laws.” 

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“These bills contain perhaps the most significant tenant protections that Rhode Island has seen in a generation, and they certainly represent the most significant healthy housing legislation in at least two decades,” he said. 

Neronha says his office has filed 19 lawsuits and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties from landlords “who have failed to fully address serious lead violations on properties where kids were lead poisoned” since the fall of 2021. More than 65 housing units have come into compliance after the issuance of intent to sue letters, pre-suit negotiations, and lawsuits, he said. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, lead-based paint, though federally banned in 1978, remains the most common source of childhood lead poisoning. While lead paint was banned nationally in 1978, many older homes still contain significant amounts of lead paint. According to the R.I. Department of Health, 19% of Providence children are lead poisoned by the time they start elementary school. In East Providence and Newport, the numbers are 15% and 14%, respectively. 

Still awaiting McKee’s signature is legislation sponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio amending the Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, creating a lead water supply replacement program and requiring that all affected lines are replaced within 10 years. 

“No family should have to worry that their home’s water supply may be poisoning their children,” said Ruggerio in a June 16 statement after its passage. “A home should be a safe and nurturing environment, and every family deserves access to safe, lead-free, potable drinking water.” 

Ruggerio’s legislation states that financial assistance would be available for property owners through the R.I. Infrastructure Bank. The bill also requires a risk assessment be conducted for any home built prior to 2011 as part of any transaction involving the property. The current requirement only mandates assessments for homes built before 1978. 

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at Allen@PBN.com. 

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