New Orleans Almost everyone knows the terribly destructive impact even the least exposure to lead can have in destroying the future of children, yet we still regularly hear about such tragedies even after all of these decades of recognized danger. In recent years, Local 100 United Labor Union members who were workers at the Houston Independent School District and Dallas Independent School district joined with parents and others to win testing and replacement of water foundations. Joining with our partners in New Orleans, we are also seeing progress.
All of this seems to pale in light of the developments that have been made in Maryland where state laws and local enforcement combined with aggressive and effective community partners, like the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative directed by Ruth Ann Norton, have totally flipped the script on lead dangers in their communities. Short years ago, Elijah Cummings, the Congressman from Baltimore was raising this issue in committee hearings and upbraiding companies and federal agencies that had allowed tenants to find their children poisoned. Now in Maryland, according to the Childhood Lead Registry, in the state that is funded by the federal Center for Disease Control there has been a 98% decline in childhood lead poisoning. State records indicate that hundreds of thousands of housing units in the Maryland have now been made lead free or lead safe.
This is all very good news and should be a model for states and communities around the country. How they did this is no secret. The state passed a series of laws establishing strict standards and a lead rental registry. In addition to the Maryland Lead Risk Reduction in Housing Act (for pre-1978 rental units), there are additional piece of legislation that have been enacted that involve universal screening, education programs, worker training, and additional services and support for homeowner-occupied properties and, importantly, childcare facilities. Prior to clearing properties for rental by families, there is now a required inspection for lead, directed clean-up if found, and clearance before the unit can be occupied. The Maryland Department of the Environment in cooperation with Housing and Health produces an annual report that documents all of this work. Maryland has also used CHIP administrative funds available federally to set up a lead hazard control fund which provides the grease to finally make these wheels roll.
Certainly, there’s still work to be done in Maryland, just as there is in states throughout the country, but examining the work done by Maryland and its partners in the community, this seems like a model that could be replicated everywhere. The same federal funding sources to trigger such programs are available everywhere and resources like CHIP are in place in every state already. The key is finally ignoring the whining of landlords, developers, and politically powerful real estate interests, then doing the inspections and forcing a fix.
There’s obviously a way, the question is whether there is a will to finally eradicate lead poisoning.
New Orleans Obvious disclosure: I’m a huge proponent of the strategic and tactical value of local and statewide initiative on our issues to build organizational power and actually win campaign results. This is obvious given the number of living wage, lifeline utility, sales tax on food & medicine, generic drug, minimum wage increase, and single member district measures we put on the ballot – and mostly won – before voters in cities and states throughout the country with ACORN. When people are given the opportunity to speak and be counted, and when organizations prove they have both the wherewithal and the courage to put the questions before them, the needle moves. Sometimes it moves with us, and sometimes it moves against us, but, doggone it, it moves!
In the elections around the country it moved yesterday in some interesting ways, so let’s look at a couple with undoubtedly more to come:
- In Michigan I had called attention recently to a number of measures where unions were willing to take their case to the voters on important collective bargaining issues. There were mixed results. The preemptive effort to ward off “wisconsinitis” and protect the public employees bargaining rights in the constitution failed, though it may have immunized the state in the future, which is critical. On the other hand the powers of “emergency managers” to take over schools and cities and reject existing collective bargaining contracts won decisively.
- Teachers, and this is mostly the NEA, were able to turn back statewide initiatives by so-called school “reformers” masking as hard right turners in Idaho and South Dakota and protect both collective bargaining and tenure in those states.
- In California upending all of the Debbie Downers and pollsters that were signally that Governor Jerry Brown was going down, voters decisively voted to raise their taxes to try and rebuild the once great public school system in that state. This is the first successful pushback to “repeal” the impact of the Howard Jarvis property tax limitations from over 30 years ago that have crippled public funding. This is huge!
- Maryland and my friends at Casa de Maryland have much to celebrate having not only won a state-based “DREAM” act through the legislature but also winning voter approval to the measure in the shadow of the White House. We’re going to win DREAM soon, I would bet.
- On protest votes on Obamacare voters in Alabama, Wyoming, and Montana on health exchanges: I’m glad I only got to Montana for fish and fun, because my brothers and sisters there are drinking bad water before voting these days. Florida voted “yes” which should have been a message to Romney, but whatever for the 47%, eh? It doesn’t matter though since federal law preempts state measures in the USA. The tide is moving out on this rightwing resistance. Even the business-based conservative Times-Picayune in New Orleans editorialized a couple of weeks ago in our solid red state that Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was a fool to not take “free” federal money for three years to provide Medicaid support for Louisiana citizens. Their message was essentially “don’t play national politics with the lives of Louisiana poor people.” A lot of these governors are going to be getting this message about reality now.
- Remember that Planned Parenthood is still fighting in the trenches state-by-state to protect its health services program after the ACORN-style Congressional scam attack, well in Florida voters lined up to say that state funding for their programs and others around birth control were fine with them.
- On other “wedge” issues dividing modern voters, two more states, Maryland and Maine are ok with gay marriage. My bet is that the Supreme Court will be watching these state plebiscites with decisions coming before it soon on this issue. Washington and Colorado were OK with legalizing marijuana (yes, I can already hear the advertisements about being a “mile high” there!), but Oregon said no. Unclear how this will sort out since the US and the Attorney-General are still insisting anything about marijuana is a crime, but Latin America is also moving this way with Uruguay and other countries believing we must legalize to stop the Mexican drug cartels. Change is coming on both of these issues no doubt!
Let the people speak and be prepared to follow.
We need to put more living wage and minimum wage efforts on the ballot locally and statewide in 2014. We need to look at some of these other issues and assess what it takes and start making plans.