State representatives discussed new legislation that aims to eliminate lead from kids’ drinking water during the 2023 Michigan State of Reform Health Policy Conference last week.
Rep. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), minority vice chair for the House Health Policy Committee, discussed the Filter First legislation, which aims to protect children from lead in drinking water at schools and child care centers. The legislation consists of Senate Bills 88 and 89, which recently passed in the Senate, and are under consideration in the House.
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An estimated nine in 10 Michigan schools have detectable levels of lead in their water. The Filter First bills would require all schools to implement a drinking water management plan, install or supply filtered bottle-filling stations or filtered faucets, and have filtered water regularly tested to ensure the filters are operating properly.
VanderWall said lawmakers worked on the initiative in order to address old infrastructure in schools and childcare centers, particularly in rural areas.
“There are water systems that have been neglected in the lines of their old technology,” VanderWall said. “We (asked), ‘What can we do to put filters in any direct water point in a school system?’ In areas (where) they have cooking, drinking, fountains, things like that, to eliminate any possibility of lead getting in our children’s drinking water. And the same aspect would go into our child care.”
Similar legislation was passed by the Senate last year, but was held up in the House, VanderWall said.
“If everything goes well, (it) will turn into a package that I really think will help our children,” he said. “When you take packages like this, you have the ground floor, introduce them, and when the world comes crashing in you find out this isn’t so easy. But then you’ve got to work with all the stakeholders, and that’s really what we did over a year period.”
Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo), chair of the House Health Policy Committee, said the issue of lead in drinking water was one of her focus areas during her last term.
“I’ll be focused on it again this year,” Rogers said. “I was a county commissioner when the Flint water crisis happened. And it’s such a preventable thing in this day and age. The filter package goes a long way. I think we really need to boost our screenings. Encourage healthcare providers, particularly pediatricians, to make sure they’re asking those screening questions because we’re frankly not testing (for) it often enough. It can have a profound effect, particularly in children’s developing brains.”
Rogers also discussed some bills that aim to add to the flexibility of the state’s organ donor registration. House Bill 4362 would provide an opt-in option for individuals to participate in the organ donor registry when they file their taxes, and HB 4364 would disclose certain information related to the donor registry program.
“(With) the driver’s license we get, you don’t have to go into the secretary of state as frequently as you once did,” Rogers said. “So we’re finding that, because the question isn’t asked frequently, we’re at an all-time low for gains in the organ donor transplant list. That’s become a problem, our wait lists are lengthening. The creative solution is to add a checkoff box to our tax forms on an annual basis. It could be as early as next year’s tax forms that have this simple checkoff box. It’s not forcing anyone to do it, it’s just giving the choice.”
Rogers also discussed the new Behavioral Health Subcommittee, which will work with the Health Policy Committee.
“Bills in that vein will still come to the Health Policy Committee, and then we will decide what goes over to Behavioral Health,” Rogers said. “It’s just an extra layer, and an extra amount of opportunity for having some deep-dive discussions and robust committee hearings. The chair of that committee is Rep. Felicia Brabeck (D-Pittsfield), who is a mental health provider herself. And we work very well together.”
VanderWall said lawmakers are working on a bill that aims to distribute insulin to users more economically.
“We’ve been working on that for well over two years,” VanderWall said. “We’re super close to being able to introduce a bill to get the conversation started. We believe we can do some things to deliver insulin to folks very economically, and the health outcomes that will come from that will be astonishing for all of us.”