Position: Support with amendments
Committee: Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in support of Senate Bill 546 with Amendments. The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders. Maryland’s Catholic schools educate than 50,000 students statewide.
Senate Bill 546 makes changes to lead testing requirements in schools by lowering the standard for an “elevated level of lead” to 5 parts per billion (ppb), a quarter of that which is currently recommended as the standard for elevated levels by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
When the General Assembly passed a bill (HB270) in 2017 to address lead levels in drinking water in schools, our Catholic schools worked closely with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in conjunction with our public school counterparts to help develop regulations with regard to the aforementioned requirements. At the same time as our public schools, hundreds of Catholic and other nonpublic schools complied and tested their water outlets for the presence of lead, many at considerable expense.
Currently, schools are required to a.) meet a standard of no more than 20 parts per billion recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency technical guidance and b.) complete testing every 36 months. This bill does not purport to change the latter requirement, which we are in support of, as such a change would be costly. Moreover, Catholic and other nonpublic schools are mandated to test on the same schedule and in the same manner as local school systems, but without grant funding for remedial cost.
The fiscal note to Senate Bill 546 provides that “[t]o the extent that nonpublic schools receive grant funding under the bill, those costs are mitigated to some extent.” There is nothing to clearly indicate that nonpublic schools are part of the Healthy School Facility Fund for lead mitigation purposes. The change in testing schedule and newly mandated procedures that resulted from the 2017 legislation resulted in dozens of schools having to complete duplicate testing and incur significant costs in doing so. The new mandates provided for by Senate Bill 546 would further promulgate those issues. For these reasons, we respectfully request this committee to adopt the attached amendments to Senate Bill 546.