WASHINGTON, D.C., July 21, 2000 – The United States Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) launched the “Sunshine Express” today by filing an Open Records Request to determine what culpability the City of Milwaukee has as it considers whether to sue the former manufacturers of lead pigment and lead-based paint.
The city’s Common Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday, July 25 on this issue. The governmental agencies served with the request include the Milwaukee Housing Authority, the Milwaukee City Attorney, the Milwaukee Health Department, and the Milwaukee Department of City Development. The Chamber said this was designed to help determine whether the agencies discharged their responsibilities to maintain paint in municipal housing units and to require private landlords to do the same.
“The goal of the Sunshine Express is to expose the hypocrisies and possible legal liability of the governments who are filing these lawsuits,” said ILR President James Wootton. “We believe this exposure may lead some government agencies to reassess their support of these lawsuits and to consider whether these problems can best be solved without litigation in which they might also be held liable.”
“Lead paint has not been sold for over 25 years in the United States. Yet in many cases state and local housing authorities have failed to properly maintain properties they control in which lead paint was used, nor have they enforced existing laws requiring other landlords to abate the effects of lead paint,” Wootton pointed out.
“The Chamber realizes that injuries from deteriorated lead-based paint should not be minimized but neither should the responsibility of governmental or private owners of property to maintain paint in their premises,” he said. “In the rush to the court house, Milwaukee shouldn’t ignore their own potentially significant liability.”
Wootton also noted that The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports responsible approaches to abate deteriorated lead paint and is strongly in favor of the CLEARCorps (Community Lead Education and Reduction Corps) program and others that are reducing lead paint danger around the country.
The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, and the African American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milwaukee all share the U.S. Chamber’s concern that the City of Milwaukee is about to undertake an ill-advised and expensive lawsuit which is unlikely to effectively address this problem.
Timothy Sheehy, President of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, agrees about the costs in time and money: “Bring in the lawyers, incur high costs to companies and taxpayers and chances are slim that litigation would be over in less than a decade or anyone would ever see any money.”
The ILR’s Sunshine Express is designed to educate the public about all the facts that should be considered when assessing whether expensive litigation is the way to solve these kinds of problems. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is extremely concerned about the growing trend of governments suing entire industries to raise revenue and achieve policy objectives outside the constraints of the political process.