Pretty much everybody agrees lead poisoning is a bad thing. It causes nerve damage, it rots brain cells, it causes impotence and if you ingest enough of the stuff, you die.
Lead poisoning took down the entire Roman Empire one sterile emperor after another. Every man, woman and child in Rome absorbed lead into their bodies daily through the vast lead-lined aqueduct system that supplied the region with water. In fact, the term “plumbing” comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. Dead language; dead dudes.
The love-fest with deadly lead found its way to the U.S. with the addition of leaded gasoline to our honkin’ big cars to give them more zing and less ping. Giant companies like ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) built giant lead-belching plants in places like Omaha, Nebraska. Giant paint companies sold lead-laced paint to millions of happy homeowners who gleefully slapped it on their walls and windowsills.
Big giant companies have a way of glossing over the facts with shiny painted platitudes and lots of money, so it took many, many years before our government finally forced them to get the lead out of their products. But the lead was still on all of those walls and windowsills, in grandma’s pottery, in old plumbing, and in the soil.
Little kids are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from those giant lead leftovers because their bodies are tiny and their brains are developing. In 2010, the Nebraska Health Department found high levels of lead in 276 children residing in 34 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. That’s a lot of poisoned kids in a lot of counties.
So Senator Brenda Council had this great idea to require lead poisoning risk screening for all Nebraska children entering school. After all, we already require screening for hearing, sight and dental problems plus five different immunizations for communicable diseases before a kid can enter kindergarten. It makes sense to also screen kids for something that just may kill them, right?
“Right,” said thirty, count ‘em, thirty, senators who voted to pass the bill.
Twelve naysayers opposed screening kids for lead poisoning risk. Among those fine child-loving senators who voted against the bill were Deb “Concrete-Over-Kids” Fischer (see: Highway Blues); Tony “Big-Words-R-Us” Fulton (see: Bringing in the Sheaves); and “Mean Charlie” Janssen (see: any anti-immigrant bill. You’ll find Charlie right there at the head of the line. Smiling.).
Naysayers aside, Senator Council’s bill passed with five extra votes.
Governor Heineman vetoed the bill. He said the bill requires universal blood lead testing which makes it overbroad, plus it will increase health care costs.
The bill does not require universal blood lead testing (please, guv’ner, read for comprehension); it requires a risk assessment, which consists of a questionnaire regarding possible environmental risks to the child. And a seventeen-dollar finger-prick blood test is a helluva lot cheaper than a lifetime of irreversible brain damage.
So, seeing as how the governor didn’t have a lead foot to stand on, Senator Council asked the Lege to override his veto. After all, she already had the thirty votes required for an override. Or so she thought.
Overnight, the lead-borne winds shifted, due to school nurses… and Doctor Oz.
Yes, that vast bastion of child health-care lobbyists, the school nurses, who did not appear at the public hearing on the bill way back in February, never spoke to Senator Council or any other senator about the bill, never objected when the bill was on general file, select file, or final reading… all of a sudden, after the bill was vetoed by the governor, these fine caretakers of young children’s health blasted the 49 senators in an email avalanche of objection to the bill.
You read it right: objection.
The nurses said a lot of smokescreen stuff like kindergarten is too late to test for lead and it will cost money (the old stand-by for anything related to helping kids) but their main gripe was it was going to make more work for them.
You would be amazed at the number of public employees who come to the hearings before the Lege and object to a bill, not because the idea behind the bill is bad, but because they will actually have to do the jobs they are paid to do. And the senators eat it up! (“Oh, you poor county clerks, your job is to register voters. We won’t allow for election-day voter registration, because gosh, we don’t want you to have to register even more voters!”)
The school nurses really impressed the senators when they sent mass copycat emails saying LB204 would increase their workload. Senator Council valiantly fought back with facts and scientific evidence to clearly demonstrate assessing children for lead poisoning risk will save money and lives.
But she was no match for Doctor Oz.
You see, Senator Lydia Brasch… and I am trying to keep a straight face here… Senator Lydia Brasch tuned in to the “Dr. Oz” show on television one day and he was talking about, you guessed it, lead poisoning.
“Doctor Oz,” reported Senator Brash, in her most reverent and worshipful voice, “recommends test kits. He says families should buy these little lead-test kits.”
Oh, Lydia, Lydia. You do realize, don’t you, that Doctor Oz is an entertainer who makes lots of money endorsing stuff like little lead-test kits?
No, I guess not.
Senator Brasch also reported, straight from the mouth of the guy wearing pancake makeup and scrubs inside her 32-inch Sony Bravia:
“Doctor Oz says there are twenty things more dangerous to children than lead poisoning.”
I kid you not, she said this in all sincerity on the floor of the Lege.
I wonder where “believing every word television celebrities say” falls in that list of twenty dangerous things?
When the votes to override were counted, Senator Brasch, who had originally supported the bill, was a “no” vote after her close encounter with the wizard of Oz. Several other senators changed their votes to “no,” a few just didn’t vote at all, and unfortunately three of the senators who would have supported the bill were absent that day.
Senator Council’s motion to override the governor’s veto failed.
But, like Senator Paul Schumacher said, “Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Parents need to forego that shake and those fries and get the kid tested for seventeen bucks.”
So there you have it, parents. An environmental mess, caused years ago by lax-if-any governmental control over giant polluting businesses, which poisons children today, is all your fault.