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YOUNGSTOWN Officials seek way to require lead tests



Published: Thu, September 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Council wants research into noncriminal penalties that would bring compliance.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- City council members want lawyers to keep looking until they find a way to make a proposed new lead law constitutional.

City lawyers say forcing sellers to do lead tests before any single-family home is sold won't stand up in court.

Council's health committee asked them Wednesday to research other alternatives.

Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, said his goal is to protect constituents. The city shouldn't fall short of that, he said.

"If business people have a problem with that, they have a problem with that," he said.

Neil Altman, city health commissioner, is seeking backing for the mandatory tests. The mandate would be that all single-family, owner-occupied homes be tested for lead paint before they're sold or transferred. Disregarding the new testing law would mean a $100 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

The law stops short of requiring expensive cleanups. Altman already can order those now under state law, but hasn't yet. He wants council's backing first.

The health board developed lead changes for nearly a year and was ready to pass them, but the law department intervened.

Legal roadblock: John A. Regginello, an assistant city prosecutor, issued an opinion Wednesday saying a 1976 Ohio Supreme Court ruling makes the proposed inspection law unconstitutional. The ruling said Cincinnati couldn't require housing inspections at sale because they constituted an illegal search.

Any criminal penalty makes the proposed lead law illegal, no matter whether the city or an outside agency conducts the inspection, Regginello said. Without a criminal penalty, the law couldn't be enforced, he said.

The city could promote educating people on the benefits of seeking lead testing before buying older houses, but not much more, said Greg Morgione, an assistant city law director.

"I just don't think we can require it," he said.

There should be a way to create sanctions other than criminal penalties that would still force homeowners to comply with inspections, said James Callen, a lawyer with Northeast Ohio Legal Services. Callen is an advocate on housing issues for low-income people.

Council members agreed and asked city lawyers to do more research and report back in a couple of weeks.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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