Bipartisan legislation that would require lead testing of drinking water in schools will have a public hearing on Tuesday, February 4 at the State Capitol. The Assembly Committee on Energy & Utilities, chaired by Rep. Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), will meet at 1:30 pm in room 225 Northwest.
Assembly Bill 476 authored by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) is the companion bill to Senate Bill 423 authored by Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and would address lead in school drinking water by requiring testing and, if necessary, requiring that contaminated water sources be taken offline and replaced with clean water sources. However, the bill provides no state funding for this purpose and leaves it to schools and communities to address the costs associated with these mandates, which are largely unknown.
At the time of the public hearing, WASB did not take a position on this bill because we had a number of concerns we hoped would be addressed by the bill authors. Some of those concerns have been addressed in an amendment.
Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 makes the following changes to the bill, among others:
- Under the bill, a school board, operator of an independent charter school, or governing body of a private school participating in a parental choice program or in the Special Needs Scholarship Program (governing body) must conduct certain tests of water sources in schools. The substitute amendment adds child care programs established by school boards to the list of “schools” in which testing must occur.
- Under the bill, the governing body of a school must test all potable water sources at the school. The substitute amendment requires the governing body to test all “drinking water sources” at the school. Under the substitute amendment,“drinking water source” means a water faucet, drinking fountain, ice maker, or other water outlet that dispenses potable water that is used for drinking or food preparation.
- The substitute amendment requires the governing body of a school to identify all water sources at the school, determine whether the water source must be tested under the bill, and label all potable water sources that are not tested and that are accessible to pupils as “not for drinking.”
- Under the bill, the governing body of a school must test drinking water sources for lead concentration, and, if test results show a concentration of lead “greater than the concentration considered safe for drinking under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act,” the governing body must take certain actions, including disconnecting the affected water source. Under the substitute amendment, the concentration of lead that triggers the required actions is a concentration of lead “greater than the federal action level for lead established pursuant to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act” (lead contamination), which is currently set at 15 parts per billion (ppb).
- Under the bill, the required actions described under item 4 include, among other things, disconnecting the affected water source until a subsequent test shows a lead concentration below the trigger level. Under the substitute amendment, all access to water from the affected water source must be either disconnected, shut off, or otherwise eliminated.
- Under the bill, a governing body must conduct required tests in accordance with the 3Ts testing protocol published by the EPA under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The substitute amendment requires a governing body to conduct required tests in accordance with the guidance posted on DPI’s Internet site at the time a test is conducted. In other words, after DHS completes its guidance document and DPI posts that guidance on DPI’s Internet site, testing must be conducted in compliance with DHS’s guidance, rather than the 3Ts.
- The substitute amendment requires DPI, in consultation with DHS and the Department of Natural Resources, to seek federal funding to assist governing bodies to pay for the costs of complying with the testing and remediation requirements created in the bill.
- The substitute amendment changes the frequency of required testing from three years to five years.
- Under the bill, if the governing body of a school conducts two consecutive tests in a school at least three years apart that show lead levels not higher than one ppb in water sources in the school, the governing body is not required to conduct any additional tests at the school. Under the substitute amendment, if the governing body of a school conducts two consecutive tests of a particular water source at a school that show lead levels not higher than five ppb, the governing body is not required to conduct any additional tests of that water source. The substitute amendment also specifies that the consecutive tests must be conducted at the regular testing interval required under the substitute amendment.
- The substitute amendment provides that the testing requirements do not apply to a school building in which pupils are not regularly present and that is not used to prepare food or provide water for pupil consumption.
- The substitute amendment modifies the referendum restriction exception created in the bill. Under the substitute amendment, if a school board conducts a required test that shows the presence of lead in drinking water at a school in the school district, the school board may call a special referendum, and the limit on the number of referendums that may be called in any calendar year is increased by one. The substitute amendment provides that the special referendum must include only costs associated with lead remediation conducted to reduce or eliminate the presence of lead in drinking water at schools in the school district. The substitute amendment does not create an exception for the restriction regarding at what time during a calendar year the special referendum may be scheduled.
- The bill allows the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to use school trust funds to issue loans to school districts, municipalities, technical college districts, and cooperative educational service agencies for the purpose of remediating lead contamination in schools. The bill also allows funds from the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program to be used to reduce the principal and interest rates on BCPL loans made for this purpose. The substitute amendment eliminates the provision in the bill that allows Safe Drinking Water Loan Program funds to be used to reduce the principal and interest rates on these BCPL loans.