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MEA Submits Amicus Brief in Legislative Maps Case on Behalf of Milwaukee Group Working to End Childhood Lead Poisoning

COLE Amicus Lead Poisoning 650 x 450
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Madison, WI— Yesterday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court accepted an amicus, or ‘friend of the court’ brief from Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) in Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, a redistricting case pending before the Court. At issue in the case is whether Wisconsin’s legislative maps violate the Wisconsin Constitution, including its separation-of-powers principles. 

The amicus brief was submitted by MEA on behalf of the Coalition on Lead Emergency (COLE), a grassroots organization whose mission is to prevent and respond to childhood lead poisoning in Milwaukee. 

COLE’s advocacy is guided by parents of lead-poisoned children. The brief argues that COLE parents have been unfairly disadvantaged because the current state legislative maps disempower the areas most affected by lead poisoning. As a result, Wisconsin’s response to lead poisoning has fallen behind.

“Childhood lead poisoning is most prevalent in neighborhoods that have been subjected to housing discrimination, segregation and disinvestment. That’s because chipping and peeling lead paint in deteriorating homes is the main cause of lead poisoning,” said MEA Executive Director Tony Wilkin Gibart. “The current state legislative maps politically disempower families living in these very same areas and therefore perpetuate an environmental injustice. The maps deny the communities most affected by lead poisoning fair opportunities to advocate for policies to prevent a public health crisis that disproportionately affects their children.”

In its deliberations on the last three state budgets, the legislature has explicitly declined to update Wisconsin’s definition of lead poisoning to reflect 2018 Centers for Disease Control guidance and provide public health investigations and early intervention services to children who are poisoned at the updated
threshold.

In addition, the legislature has repeatedly rejected efforts to speed up the removal of lead service laterals in Wisconsin. It has also restricted local governments from requiring rental properties be inspected for lead hazards, which is a proven strategy to prevent lead poisoning. 

“Legislative district maps with partisan bias have politically disempowered parents who are bravely working to counteract decades of disempowerment and housing and environmental injustices,” said Richard Diaz, chairperson of COLE. “Not only is that wrong, but it also means Wisconsin has missed opportunities to prevent children across the state from being poisoned by lead. The health of our democracy has a clear relationship to the health of children.”

The brief argues that any new legislative district maps should be responsive to all Wisconsinites—regardless of where they live—to prevent future legislatures from neglecting environmental issues that disproportionately affect certain areas of the state. 

“In addition to lead poisoning, many other environmental issues unevenly impact certain geographical parts of the state,” said Gibart. “Our state constitution requires all Wisconsinites to have free and equal opportunities to effectively advocate for state actions to protect a healthy environment for their families. COLE’s experiences show this goal requires maps that empower and are responsive to all voters.”

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