According to the Pennsylvania Health Policy Coalition, harmful levels of lead are present in all 67 counties. Sites of lead exposure vary and include old homes, deteriorating school buildings, ageing water service lines and soil near former industrial sites.
The lead paint ban of 1978 and outlawing of lead water pipes in 1986 were important steps to mitigating future lead exposure, but we still have a distance to go to secure a lead-free environment, particularly for children where even small amounts of lead exposure can cause harm to the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
Testing for lead exposure is fundamental to prevention.
Testing for lead exposure is fundamental to assessing where and how much lead is present in the environment, and what populations are most affected. Testing guides treatment and actions for remediation. Both the House and Senate are aware of the risks of lead exposure. In April 2019, the Joint State Government Commission issued a detailed report, “Lead Exposure Risks and Responses in Pennsylvania”, created by the Advisory Committee and Task Force on Lead Exposure.
The path of Senate Bill 522.
Numerous bills regarding lead exposure, testing and remediation have been presented (mostly without action) in different committees by both House and Senate members. The bill that received the most traction is SB 522: Universal Lead Testing for Children. Introduced in April 2021, SB 522 had three Republican sponsors, including the bill’s Prime Sponsor, and nine Democratic sponsors. It promoted mandatory lead testing with insurance coverage for children from infancy to age two and pregnant women.
After months of support for SB 522 as it moved through the legislative process, the bill was amended in the Appropriations Committee just hours before final approval by the House and Senate. The amended bill now encouraged, but did not require, lead testing and insurance coverage. This change made SB 522 an unenforceable guideline to healthcare providers, insurance companies and municipal governments. It allows representatives to tell constituents that the issue of testing for lead exposure has been addressed when, in reality, it has not been resolved. Legislative rules must be changed to ensure that there is time for communication and discussion of any amendments or changes to a bill before calling for a final vote.
Dysfunction revealed in the final vote, October 2022.
In preparation for the House vote, SB 522 was introduced as "This bill provides for lead testing in pregnant women and infants." The Appropriations amendment that weakened the merit of the bill from mandatory testing to encouraged testing was not mentioned, and the vote began fifty-two seconds later. It passed the House with 193 Yeas and 6 Nays.
The Senate, which had unanimously approved SB 522 in June 2022, voted 30 Yeas and 18 Nays.
It is worth noting that the Appropriations Committee, by legislative rules, can only write amendments based on the fiscal aspects of a bill; it cannot change the merits of a bill. This rule was broken. The fiscal report issued after the amendment to SB 522 remained the same as previously.
Efforts to require mandatory testing continue in Session 2023-24.
Follow Senator Lisa Baker’s CoSponsorship Memoranda posted December 5, 2022.