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Pastors decry Ohio’s lead-abatement plan

State provision threatens Toledo’s authority

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    The Rev. Donald Perryman, with 20 clergy and community members at Nexus Health Center, calls the effort to have the state control lead ‘reckless’ and ‘unjust.’

    THE BLADE/LAUREN LINDSTROM
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    Merrin

Calling a provision to the Ohio House budget bill that gives all lead-abatement regulation control to the state “reckless” and “unjust,” Toledo-area pastors Wednesday criticized the proposal they say limits the ability to protect Toledo’s children through the city’s lead-safe rental law.

Nearly two dozen clergy and other community members voiced their opposition to an addition to the bill from State Rep. Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township) that would give the state sole authority on lead abatement, possibly voiding Toledo’s lead-safe rental law passed last year.

“Some in the legislature are trying to undo the proactive steps taken by our city to respond to a problem and lessen its impact,” the Rev. Donald Perryman of Center of Hope Community Baptist Church said at a news conference held at Nexus Health Care, 1415 Jefferson Ave.

“Toledo is trying to act now before there is a crisis in the name of people who are too often unheard,” he said. “What is proposed in the legislature is to undo those steps in the name of hearing the voices of the same people who are always heard. ... I oppose any effort of the legislature to usurp Toledo’s home rule and weaken in any way the lead ordinance.”

The proposal would give the Ohio Department of Health “sole and exclusive authority to compel, prohibit, license, or regulate lead abatement activities within the state, including the licensing of lead abatement professionals and excepting only those activities for which oversight has been delegated by the Revised Code to boards of health.”

Although Toledo’s law just mandates that affected properties undergo lead-safe inspections, and if necessary, cleaning and repairs — Mr. Merrin’s addition is seen as an attempt to kill or weaken the city’s law, as it voids “any law or rule governing the abatement of lead, lead-based paint, or the employment or licensing of lead abatement professionals.”

The budget bill language calls regulation of lead abatement “a matter of general statewide interest” that should be handled uniformly, but critics say it keeps cities with tougher laws like Toledo’s from taking steps to prevent lead poisoning.

“The provision is irresponsible, impetuous, reckless, and it makes the matter unjust, unfair, and in fact, corrupt,” said the Rev. Rose Russell, pastor of Payne Memorial AME Church in Holland and president of the Methodist Ministers Affiliation of Greater Toledo. “If the General Assembly allows this amendment to move forward it would deliver a message to Ohioans and in fact the nation that the Buckeye state does not care about its vulnerable children and it is all too happy to dismiss the proven adverse effects of lead poisoning in children.”

Pastor Russell is a former Blade reporter and editor.

Mr. Merrin in a statement April 28 confirmed he was behind the measure and called Toledo’s lead ordinance “unconstitutional” and “targeted discrimination.”

The city law, passed by Toledo City Council in August and revised in April to stagger implementation based on census tracts, requires rental buildings built before 1978 with up to four units and home day-care centers to be certified “lead-safe” through passing a visual inspection for lead hazards and a dust wipe test to determine concentrations of lead dust.

Anna Mills, head of Toledo Real Estate Investors Association, said in an interview shortly after Mr. Merrin made his confirmation that the Toledo and Ohio chapters of the association support it. She said the city should focus on enforcing the laws it has.

“Toledo has laws against the bad houses, peeling houses, rather than make a law that costs everyone,” she said. “Why are you charging all the good houses and landlords when you can be going after the bad ones?”

She said she supports a uniform application of lead laws statewide. “Toledo thinks by home rule they can overly regulate and duplicate what the state and federal governments are doing and charge for it,” she said.

Mr. Merrin’s amendment was included in the House budget bill that passed last week. It now heads to the Senate; both chambers must agree on a budget bill before July 1 when the new fiscal year starts.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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