Iowa House committee makes school radon testing bill a ‘toothless tiger’

Concern among lawmakers that SF 366 is unfunded mandate

James Q. Lynch
Published: March 12 2014 | 5:05 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:31 am in

An Iowa House turned legislation mandating schools test for radon gas, which is believed to be a leading cause of lung cancer, into a “toothless tiger” Wednesday, according to the bill’s Senate floor manager.

An amendment unanimously approved by the House Local Government Committee makes the bill “virtually meaningless,” Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said.

The amendment stripped provisions that would require schools to perform a short-term test for radon gas at each school by June 30, 2025, and at least once every 10 years thereafter. The Legislative Services Agency estimated that cost to be $1.9 million, which House floor manager Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said was based on “educated guesses.”

McCoy’s bill, approved by the Senate 37-10 a year ago, also proscribed a course of remediation if the tests showed radon gas at or above four picocuries per liter and further testing.

However, Windschitl offered his amendment to avoid “going down the path of mandating one more thing on top of school districts.”

There was concern that SF 366 as approved by the Senate was an unfunded mandate.

“I want to find out if there is a need for that before we do that,” Windschitl said.

His amendment would require the state Department of Education to inform school district of the risks associated with radon. Each school district would have to notify the department by Dec. 1 whether it has a radon testing and mitigation plan. If they do not, the schools would have to notify the department of any plans to implement a radon testing and mitigation plan.

That information would be forwarded to the Legislature in January 2015.

McCoy predicted the report will show that a large majority of school districts do not test for radon and have no plans to test.

“The House knows it will find there are significant radon issues and it wants to avoid the financial implications of that,” he said.

Windschitl said the data will help the Legislature understand the scope of the situation “without putting an out-and-out mandate” on school districts.

“I sincerely hope they will be encouraged by this … and start moving forward.”

McCoy plans to recommend the Senate concur with the House.

“It’s a first step,” he said. “It will give us a full snapshot of the situation.”

If SF 366 is approved, the House is unlikely to take up SF 2262, a bill dealing specifically with radon testing and mitigation in schools. It was approved by the Senate earlier this month.


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