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CA Lead Paint Ballot Measure Scrapped

Monday, July 2, 2018

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On the day of the deadline to withdraw initiatives from California’s November ballot, manufacturers involved in a yearslong lead paint dispute did just that last Thursday (June 28), spiking plans for The Healthy Homes and Schools Act.

The Initiative and The Court Battle

The legislation would have authorized $3.9 million in taxpayer-paid state bonds to fund remediation of not just lead, but also mold, asbestos and other environmental dangers in residences, schools and senior citizen facilities.

© iStock.com / XiFoto

On the day of the deadline to withdraw initiatives from California’s November ballot, manufacturers involved in a yearslong lead paint dispute did just that last Thursday (June 28), spiking plans for The Healthy Homes and Schools Act.

Paint companies ConAgra, The Sherwin-Williams Company and NL Industries (until recently) bankrolled the push to get the initiative in front of voters in November, spending $8 million and collecting the 365,880 signatures needed.

This came after nearly 20 years of court battles arguing about who is responsible for lead paint remediation in residencies across 10 municipalities.

In the original case, during the 2013 trial, Judge Kleinberg ordered The Sherwin-Williams Company, ConAgra Grocery Products Inc. and NL Industries to pay $1.1 billion into a fund that would be distributed to the 10 cities and counties affected, as needed.

The case wound its way through the system, and in the most recent ruling (in November 2017), the Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose dropped the amount of cleanup that the companies are responsible for to homes built before 1951, instead of 1978. This took the price tag down to $400 million.

The companies announced the ballot initiative in January, just weeks before a high court judge denied a review of the November 2017 ruling.

Proponents said at the time that financing the cleanup with a bond could allow for more wide-ranging solutions, instead of just the court-mandated cleanups that have so far only been in certain jurisdictions where lawsuits have been filed.

People opposed argued that if the measure is passed, it would essentially reverse the court decision that required the companies pay for the fixes, and would also effectively keep anyone else from filing such a lawsuit.

© iStock.com / Marilyn Nieves

The case wound its way through the system, and in the most recent ruling (in November 2017), the Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose dropped the amount of cleanup that the companies are responsible for to homes built before 1951, instead of 1978. This took the price tag down to $400 million.

In May, however, NL Industries reached a $60 million settlement with the 10 areas and also agreed to stop backing the ballot initiative. The company’s lawyers note, though, that the NL did not admit to any wrongdoing.

So, What Happened Last Week?

To combat the initiative, half a dozen legislators authored bills that would penalize the companies beyond the appeals court ruling. In addition, two California counties filed a lawsuit to get the initiative taken off the ballot, all while negotiations were still ongoing between legislators and the companies.

As late as Monday, the companies proposed different legislation, seeking the help of Assemblyman Tim Grayson, D-Concord, who said that he supported a deal, but not what the companies had put forward.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Kendall Klingler, a spokesperson for the paint companies’ campaign, said in a statement that the companies “are committed to supporting a solution that works.”

On Thursday, the companies did withdraw the initiative and, in response, lawmakers pulled back on three pieces of proposed legislation.

As it stands, the state court is still calculating how much the remaining two companies would have to pay out for remediation in the case, which could still possibly be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

   

Tagged categories: Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Lead; Lead paint abatement

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