State Legislatures Prepare to Address Environmental Public Health Issues in 2010 Legislative Sessions

Article excerpt

At the halfway point in the 2010 legislative sessions, states legislatures have again addressed a number of important environmental public health issues. From restricting the spraying of pesticides near schools to encouraging recycling of mercury-filled fluorescent lamps to curbing the use of chemicals in children's toys, state legislatures continue to craft innovative policy proposals to protect the public health from environmental contaminants despite record budgetary shortfalls.

So far this year, over 1,500 environmental health bills have been introduced or carried over from the 2009 legislative sessions. These include bills addressing asbestos, asthma, biomonitoring, carbon monoxide poisoning, children's environmental health, chemicals and pesticides, drinking water quality, exposure to dangerous heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, indoor air quality, public health tracking, and radon. This article looks briefly at the legislative landscape in the states in 2010 and reviews a variety of environmental health legislation that will be considered, and in some cases has already been adopted, in state legislatures this year.

2010 Legislative Landscape

Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have regular sessions in 2010. Nevada and Oregon convened special sessions in 2010, while Montana, North Dakota, and Texas do not have any sessions scheduled (though committees and legislative task forces will continue to meet throughout the year). For 28 states, 2010 is a carry-over year, meaning that legislation introduced in 2009 can be enacted in 2010.

Budgetary issues continue to frame legislative activity in the states. Falling revenues due to the economic recession led to a $145.9 billion deficit in the 50 states, which forced almost every state lawmaker (with the exception of Vermont, which can run a deficit) to cut programs and raise fees and taxes. Environmental health was not immune from these cuts, with many states reducing EPH budgets or eliminating programs altogether. Several local programs chose to eliminate their environmental health programs, placing the burden on the already struggling state EPH programs.

The FY 2011 budgets will contain harsher cuts, as funding gaps continue to mount. Contributing to state budget woes is the end of federal stimulus funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Those additional funds supported state budgets in FY 2009 and, to an even greater extent, in FY 2010. That money ends in FY 2011 and will leave big holes in state budgets when it is gone.

These budget gaps make maintaining current programs difficult and adopting new programs almost impossible. Yet state legislators, like all in government service, strive to meet the demands of the public: more services with fewer resources.

Reducing Chemical Exposures

States legislatures are taking innovative approaches to reducing chemical exposures in schools, homes, and the workplace. Some bills would encourage the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products in schools. Hawaii H.B. 1538 would require public schools to give first preference to the purchase of nontoxic green cleaning and maintenance products. Similar green cleaning bills have been filed in California (A.B. 821), Iowa (H.B. 199, H.B. 823, S.B. 2241, S.B. 2335), and Massachusetts (S.B. 816). Tennessee's H.J.R. 767 directs the state's Department of Education to study green cleaning practices in public schools and to report its findings to the legislature.

Pesticides

The spraying of pesticides on or near school property is another concern addressed by 2010 state legislation. Alaska S.B. 281 would prohibit the use or storage of pesticides on school grounds unless nonchemical measures for eliminating or mitigating a pest, such as sanitation, structural remediation, habitat manipulation, mechanical modifications, and biological measures have been used and have failed. …