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Lawmakers Announce Deal To Halt Lead Paint Ballot Measure

Chitose Suzuki / AP Photo

Contractors Luis Benitez, foreground, and Jose Diaz, background, clean up lead paint at a contaminated building in Providence, R.I., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006

Chitose Suzuki / AP Photo

SOPHIA BOLLAG, Associated Press

Paint companies on Thursday withdrew an initiative from the November ballot that would have limited their liability for lead paint cleanup and authorized billions of dollars in state bonds to pay for it.

The decision came just ahead of the deadline to withdraw initiatives. Legislative leaders said it was the result of talks to avoid an expensive initiative battle and "ensure a thoughtful process to address the significant problems arising from the existence of lead paint in older homes across the state."

Lawmakers, the paint companies and other interested parties agreed to work together toward a resolution before the end of the legislative session in September, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, both Democrats, said in a statement.

"We appreciate the efforts of all involved," they said.
Kendall Klingler, a spokeswoman for the paint industry's ballot measure committee, said in a statement that the group will work with lawmakers on a policy "putting more money in the hands of homeowners faster through a responsible statewide program."

Three major paint companies financed the initiative after court rulings declared lead paint to be a public nuisance and required them to pay for cleanup. The ballot measure would have shifted the cost to clean up homes from the paint companies to California taxpayers.

Democratic lawmakers agreed to drop at least some of the half-dozen bills they'd introduced targeting paint companies in retaliation for the initiative. Other issues remain under discussion, including liability for homes that were not part of the court case, said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco.

"Let's not forget that the real issue here is getting lead paint out of homes," said Assemblyman Tim Grayson, D-Concord.
Courts ruled in favor of 10 California cities and counties that argued ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams knowingly endangered public health by advertising and selling lead paint.

A Santa Clara County judge found lead paint to be a public nuisance and required the three companies to pay $1.15 billion for abatement. A state Court of Appeal in November upheld the finding of public nuisance but said the companies only have to pay for abatement in homes built before 1951. The final bill for those homes has not yet been determined but is expected to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The industry-backed ballot measure would have declared that lead paint is not a public nuisance, wiping out the liability from the existing lawsuit and any others filed by other cities or counties under the same legal theory. It included a $2 billion bond for lead abatement to be repaid from the state general fund for an average of $110 million a year for 35 years.

Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper contributed to this report.

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