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KSL investigation sparks interest in radon bill

By Mike Headrick and Linda Williams. | Posted - Jan 27th, 2013 @ 10:10pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill sparked by a KSL investigation into radon will be up for debate in the 2013 Legislative Session.

Last November, KSL discovered dozens of Draper homes with unhealthy levels of radon. The homeowners wanted help, but the investigation revealed Utah had no laws in place to protect Utahns from this radioactive gas.

That could change all change this year if lawmakers pass the Radon Gas Provisions bill, but it's a long climb to the top and each step could end in failure.

The gas occurs naturally when uranium decays in soil and water. It seeps up through the ground and collects in buildings. The Environmental Protection Agency said radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer after cigarettes, killing at least 20,000 people every year.

Stakeholders Meeting

The bill process began with a meeting of the minds. The people involved this time represent stakeholders: health departments, doctors, builders and charities.

About radon
  1. Radioactive gas
  2. Comes from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all soils
  3. Moves up through the ground to the air into your home through cracks in foundation
  4. Homes trap radon inside, where it builds up
  5. You cannot see, smell or taste it
  6. Nearly 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated levels of the gas
Info: U.S. EPA

Sponsor of the Radon Gas Provisions bill Senator John L. Valentine, R-Orem, has been meeting with stakeholders for weeks debating and discussing the things that could end up in Utah's first-ever radon law.

"I'm amazed that it's such a safety issue, it's killing people and that we don't have regulation," said Kena Mathews, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Utah County.

"I think this is just so important, it's kind of a glaring miss for our state," said Dr. Wallace Akerley, Director of Thoracic Oncology at Huntsman Cancer Institute, and one of the state's leading experts on radon gas.

Since Utah has no radon rules, everything is on the table. Some stakeholders want new codes that require builders to install radon ventilation, or mitigation, systems in all new buildings. Others want the people who install those systems to be certified by the state so those systems are installed right.

"There's also mitigators who are construction workers and they kind of look at something in a magazine and they've made mistakes," Akerley said. "We attended a national radon meeting and they just showed example after example where they would vent the radon under the house but put it next to the intake for the air conditioning or things like that. You want to vent it away and keep it away."

Some of the ideas are well received. Others, not so much.

"If we go too far one way or the other, one, (we) won't get the bill passed. And two - we'll have such push back from the industry we'll never get people to actually do it," Valentine said.

Related:

A Bill to Vote For

With so much to do, and only 45 days to do it in, Valentine is starting small with a provision he thinks lawmakers will vote for.

"The focus of the bill, after meeting with various stakeholders, seems to focus on the disclosure to a person who is buying the property in the duties of both the seller and the buyer of the property," Valentine said. "The second element that we're trying to work on for the bill is an education component. Candidly I'm still working on the details of it. I'm not certain we'll have them all worked out before the session."

Valentine said if he can get a bill passed this year, it could open the door to future regulations.

"Once we get the statute in place it gives us a foundation upon which to build," he said.

The Process

For that to happen, though, the bill actually has to become a law, and to get there it has a lot of Legislative hurdles to jump.

"There's only one way to pass a bill in the Legislature, and it has to go through each one of the steps. There's probably a hundred ways for the bill to falter," Valentine said.

The Incidence of Radon in Utah (Photo: Utah Division of Radiation Control)

First, lawmakers like Valentine meet with legislative attorneys in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel where the lawmaker lays out what points they want in the bill. The attorney makes sure they're constitutional and drafts the bill.

Then it's sent to the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, where it's assigned a fiscal note - or price. From there it goes into the process of introductions in the Senate or House, depending on the lawmaker requesting the bill. The Senate or House reads the bill, in what's referred to as the "first reading." After that, it goes to the Rules Committee.

"If it goes to the Rules Committee and the Rules Committee likes it then it'll be assigned to a Standing Committee," Valentine said. "The Standing Committee will then decide whether they're even going to debate it, or it could just sit in the Standing Committee and die there."

If the Standing Committee decides to debate the bill, it schedules a hearing and opens up the floor for public input. Then it sends the bill back to the Senate or House for two debates, known as the second reading and final debate or final passage.

"At the final passage, then it will pass the Senate and then go to the House and start all over again," Valentine said. "Oftentimes if the bill goes all the way through one body with no change it goes to the other body and gets changed. And then what happens, instead of going down to the Governor's Office, because it's been changed it comes back to the Senate from the House."

Valentine said if lawmakers do not agree on the changes to the bill, they meet in a Conference Committee and try to "reconcile those differences."

If the bill survives the Legislative process, it ends up on the Governor's desk. He then issues a veto, signs it into law, or allows the bill to become a law without his signature.

"There's only one way to pass a bill in the Legislature, and it has to go through each one of the steps. There's probably a hundred ways for the bill to falter," said Valentine.

Valentine says he has "high hopes" the radon bill will make it through the session.

"One of the advantages was that we started before the session started. That's always a big advantage for any bill that has a lot of work involved with it," Valentine said. "We have bills that sometimes are all jumbled up and they never make it through. This bill I think is going to be very clear and going to have a nice little package around it so people can understand and say yes."

The Radon Gas Provisions bill has 45 days to make it all the way through the process.

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Mike Headrick
Linda Williams.

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