SACRAMENTO - A bill that would allow homeowners to pursue lead-based paint manufacturers in cases where they cannot identify the maker has been parked by its sponsor in the California State Assembly.
And a second bill describing lead-based paint as a physical injury to a property, thereby allowing another avenue for legal action, was rejected by the same chamber.
But four others targeting lead-based hazards and manufacturers remain alive, including one that would increase a fee on paint manufacturers if a ballot initiative sponsored by three companies passes in November.
If passed, the initiative authorizes a $2 billion bond issue, which it is estimated will cost in total $3.9 billion over its life.
It would be spent on the clean up of lead-based paint and other legacy contaminants but also overturn a court judgment that found ConAgra, NL Industries, and Sherwin-William, created a "public nuisance" and are liable for the clean up.
Following an appeals court ruling, the defendants are facing a bill of anywhere between $400 million and $700 million, down from an original $1.15 billion. Calculating the liability following the appeals court decision will be the job of the trial court.
But NL Industries later agreed to settle for $60 million with the 10 counties and three cities that took the legal action, which has lasted for 18 years. The two other companies have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a review.
Of the legislation filed, AB 2074, which would allow plaintiffs across the state to sue lead-based paint makers even if they cannot identify the manufacturer, has been placed in the inactive file by its sponsor, Rob Bonta (D-18th).
AB 2995 classifying lead-based paint as a physical injury was rejected by the assembly.
Three others remain in committee, while AB 3009 is at third reading in the Assembly. The latter bill would increase the fee paint manufacturers have been paying to the state since the early 1990s from $1 to $2 per gallon sold. It will only go into effect if the initiative passes.
Julian Canete, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is opposed to the legislative moves now being made, and supports the ballot initiative.
Canete said he was always concerned with the court ruling that designated houses with lead-based paint as a "public nuisance" and believes many home owners could find themselves paying out of pocket for the removal of the paint, see their house values decrease, or be left open to legal action.
An appeals court ruling that the paint manufacturers are not liable for any clean up of homes built between 1951 and 1981 homes further increases those risks, Canete told the Northern California Record.
Overall, he believes the companies involved are being treated unfairly by the courts and the legislature.
"A company like Sherwin Williams stopped making lead-based paint in 1947, and, after that, all the other companies began labeling their cans as not for interior use," Canete said.
" They were being responsible as early as 1947 when tools became available that made them aware, and doing what the government wanted them to do."
However, evidence was produced during the long running legal action that lead-based paint manufacturers knew of the risks much earlier.
"We are supportive of the iniatitive so it can help all other home owners," Canete said, adding that the money raised will cover not just lead-based paint but also other contaminants such as mold and asbestos.
"It is a good answer to help our home owners, because we do not want them to lose value because labeled their property is labeled a 'public nuisance'," he said. "We will be supporting this, and it could pass when people realize it is for the benefit of home owners."
But Nourbese Flint, policy director of the Los Angeles-based Black Women for Wellness, in an op-ed in capitolweekly.net, said her organization is strongly backing the bills still alive in the Assembly.
And on the initiative, Flint wrote, "Seeing no way to prevail in the courts, the Big Three filed a ballot initiative that would nullify the court judgment holding them responsible for lead paint cleanup in 10 counties, and effectively pardon them by preventing any future suits.
"Perhaps worst of all, the toxic paint producers’ initiative would force taxpayers to clean up the companies’ own toxic paint mess, draining nearly $4 billion dollars from our state budget."