(TRENTON) - Legislation Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Daniel Benson, Elizabeth Muoio, Marlene Caride, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Angela McKnight, Benjie Wimberly and Shavonda Sumter sponsored to reimburse school districts and nonpublic schools for the cost of testing school drinking water for lead received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk.
"Lead testing is critical to maintaining a healthy school environment," said Quijano (D-Union). "In the last year, many schools have had to perform more comprehensive tests for lead, which was not originally calculated in their budget. The state should provide additional funding support for lead testing to help our schools in this time of need."
The annual appropriations act for fiscal year 2016-2017 included a $10 million appropriation to reimburse school districts for testing their drinking water. Department of Education requirements stated that school districts would only be eligible to receive a reimbursement for lead testing performed after July 13, 2016. This bill (A-4284) would allow a school district and nonpublic schools to receive reimbursement for lead testing conducted on or after Jan. 1, 2016.
"High levels of lead have been discovered in more than a few school districts this past year," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "For underfunded school districts, reimbursement for testing and clean-up is critical to keep our children safe and is the right thing for the state to do."
"Students in New Jersey's schools deserve safe drinking water. The cost shouldn't be a deterrent to preventing lead poisoning among this state's children," said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "The very least the state can do is provide school districts with the funding they need to test their water."
"There's no safe amount of lead a child can ingest. Therefore, we have a duty to ensure that students are not drinking contaminated water at school," said Caride, chair of the Assembly Education Committee. "New Jersey must commit to taking action that can keep all children healthy."
"Schools are supposed to be places where kids can learn and grow, not places where they'll be poisoned," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "As a parent, I shudder at the thought of students in New Jersey being exposed to lead at school. All students and parents should be able to rest assured that drinking water from the fountain at school won't make children sick."
"Even a small amount of lead can cause serious long-term damage, especially in young children," McKnight (D-Hudson). "The only way to know for sure whether tap water is safe to drink is to test it. Supplying school districts with the funding needed for that testing will help reduce the risk of lead poisoning among students."
"Last year we found out that a third of the schools in Paterson had water that contained more than the federal limit for lead. That's unacceptable for the city of Paterson, and it's unacceptable for the state of New Jersey," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "For the sake of all children in New Jersey, we need to make sure school districts have funding to test their water for lead, which is the first step in solving a serious problem."
"The cost of testing for lead in school drinking water is small relative to the consequence of not funding it," said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). "We know that lead can cause irreparable damage to children during crucial stages of their development. Our state has a responsibility to do everything possible to prevent the youngest New Jerseyans from being exposed to this danger."
The bill was approved 74-0 by the Assembly, and was approved 37-0 by the Senate on March 13.