Coalition to propose lead-safe ballot initiative, citing inaction by public officials

January 11, 2019

Coalition to propose lead-safe ballot initiative, citing inaction by public officials

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A coalition of community groups fed up with waiting for public officials to take action says it is gearing up to propose a ballot initiative in Cleveland to “protect tenants from lead poisoning.”

The coalition, called CLASH -- Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing – includes Cleveland Lead Safe Network (CLSN), which assembled the coalition, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus(CCPC), Black Lives Matter of Cuyahoga County, Organize! Ohio and the Cleveland Democratic Socialists of America.

“We didn’t go into this thinking the end result would be that we’d have to try and take this to the voters,” Yvonka Hall, outreach director for the CCPC said. “We did our homework, we found possible cures for this problem, we met with officials. We got no response.”

Current calls for universal testing and more community education are steps in the right direction, Hall said.

More testing, though, doesn’t identify homes with lead hazards before a child is exposed to the toxin, she said.

Lead can irreversibly damage a child’s developing brain and cause heath, behavioral and learning problems.

CLASH’s release doesn’t say when the coalition plans to publicly share its proposed legislation. But it will be similar to a plan by former Cleveland City Council Member Jeff Johnson proposed in 2017 that has yet to have a public hearing. That legislation was crafted at Johnson’s request by The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. See the full release here.

Read more about that legislation here.

“The public has waited for years through mismanagement, inaction, and inadequate measures from our city leaders,” Rebecca Maurer, an attorney who is helping to draft the initiative, said in a news release. “All the while more Cleveland children have been lead poisoned.”

Maurer said if Cleveland City Council will not seriously consider proposed legislation to address the crisis, the time is right to take it to the public.

Coalition members next plan to collect signatures from Cleveland citizens.

Johnson’s ordinance proposed creating a standard that would require all Cleveland rentals, child care centers and schools built before 1978 to be certified as safe from lead hazards by 2021.

More than a decade ago, Cleveland enacted a “voluntary” lead safe registry, but the registry flopped when no landlords signed up for the certificates, which required a private inspector to ensure the home didn’t pose a lead risk to children.

In order to put the legislation in front of council, the group first will have to gather and submit the petitions with the signatures of 5,000 registered voters to the City Council clerk, who has 10 days to validate or reject them, according to the city’s charter.

If the petitions are certified, the ordinance is then introduced at the next regular council meeting, where it can be taken up by the whole council or referred to a committee.

Council would be required to vote on the legislation within 90 days, according to the city’s charter.

Council could decide to pass the legislation as submitted, pass an amended version or reject it.

If council were to amend or reject an ordinance, the group could decide to put the original legislation before Cleveland voters.

Councilman Tony Brancatelli, who chairs the Development, Planning and Sustainability committee, said after Johnson’s legislation was introduced that he had concerns about whether a mandatory standard could or would be enforced by the city. He could not be immediately reached for comment on the ballot initiative announcement.

Councilman Blaine Griffin previously told The Plain Dealer he understands that some are unhappy with the pace of progress, and while he doesn’t think the initiative is the way to go, he doesn’t discourage citizens from getting involved. Griffin said a contingent of public officials and non-profit leaders from Cleveland and Cuyahoga County visited Rochester, New York in November to learn more about their primary prevention model that has reduced lead poisoning among children there.

Griffin, who chairs the Health and Human Services committee, last year publicly promised legislation to address lead poisoning in 2018. That didn’t happen, but Griffin said progress is being made that will result in action.

As of yet, he’s offered no specifics, aside from wanting to make screening for lead universally required.

This story will be updated.


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