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Update: City senator wants answers on lead paint judgments

State Sen. Cathy Pugh, D-Baltimore City, is seeking to hold back $17.5 million in funding slated for Baltimore until the city government comes up with a plan to pay $12 million in court judgments stemming from lead paint poisoning cases.

The Sun reported Sunday the city housing department says it can’t afford to pay the judgments. The story also says the department has spent $3.8 million defending itself in those cases since 2005.

Pugh called that “unconscionable” on the Senate floor Friday afternoon. Her amendment to the capital budget has been delayed because of a drafting error, and is expected to be taken up later today.

“What we’re asking for is a plan of action,” Pugh said. “You can’t turn your back on the citizens of Baltimore.”

“We need to send a message,” she said.

Pugh was backed by fellow city senators and lawmakers from both parties from around the state.

“One of the most horrible landlords is the city of Baltimore,” said Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County.

Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs called the legislation an example of “good government.”

Members of the Senate’s budget-setting committee, however, resisted the amendment, which would have to be added to the list of items to be reconciled between the House and Senate versions of the legislative session that ends Monday.

It’s “well-intentioned,” said Sen. Ed DeGrange, who chairs the capital budget subcommittee,”but not something we need to address through the capital budget.”

5:45 p.m. update

The Senate decided to adopt language regarding the lead paint judgments in the uncodified section of the bill, which shows the chamber’s intent but does not have the force that the original amendment would have.

And the city’s Housing Authority sent along a response to the effort in the Senate, which is long, but worth reading. I’ll post it below. The statement is from Executive Director Paul T. Graziano, by way of Cheron Porter, the authority’s spokeswoman.

“The Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) is deeply sympathetic to anyone who has suffered from lead paint poisoning. The recently discussed cases were filed in the past few years; however, they involve incidents that occurred prior to the implementation of Maryland’s lead law in 1996. HABC has been fully compliant since its inception.

HABC has the great responsibility of providing homes for over 25,000 very low-income households throughout Baltimore city, while facing severe federal funding constraints. HABC faces over $800 million in claims and is in no financial position to pay these claims and still provide decent, safe and affordable housing for our current families, seniors and persons with disabilities.  Serving our city’s most vulnerable populations is our first priority. Therefore in addition to the above efforts, HABC voluntarily provides the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning 200 Section 8 vouchers to help the families of children with elevated blood lead levels move from lead contaminated private houses(unrelated to HABC’s programs) to relocate to lead safe homes.”