State housing officials don’t usually generate national news, but the story out Maryland is a doozy. The Baltimore Sun reported the other day:
Gov. Larry Hogan’s top housing official said Friday that he wants to look at loosening state lead paint poisoning laws, saying they could motivate a mother to deliberately poison her child to obtain free housing.Kenneth C. Holt, secretary of Housing, Community and Development, told an audience at the Maryland Association of Counties summer convention here that a mother could just put a lead fishing weight in her child’s mouth, then take the child in for testing and a landlord would be liable for providing the child with housing until the age of 18.
Holt, who’s served in this post for less than a year, hasn’t cited any instances in which this has actually happened, but he suggested to the Sun that it’s a plausible scenario. “This is an anecdotal story that was described to me as something that could possibly happen,” Holt said.
That possibility has apparently led the Maryland Housing chief to begin work on draft legislation to “limit the liability of landlords in lead paint cases.”
The combination of wanting to loosen safety regulations and making up a bizarre poisoning fantasy raised some concerns about Holt’s qualifications. The Boston Globe’s Michael Cohen noted, in a rather understated sort of way, “A public servant who suggests parents would poison their kids to get free housing is, perhaps, not the best guardian of the public interest.”
Democrats in the state legislature agreed and quickly called for Holt’s ouster. Thirty Maryland Dems said Holt’s remarks were “particularly insensitive to African-Americans, who have been disproportionately harmed by the devastating effects of lead paint poisoning.”
Yesterday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) offered his response: Holt’s staying.
Hogan gave Housing Secretary Kenneth C. Holt a stern talking-to on Monday but will not ask him to leave, said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the governor. […]“Over the past seven months, Secretary Holt has proven himself to be a passionate and competent public servant, and the governor remains confident that he can continue to effectively lead this department and serve the people of our state,” Mayer said.
The Baltimore Sun’s reporting added that Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) said over the weekend that Holt had been “off the reservation” in making his “odd” remarks – though that apparently isn’t enough to replace him.
There is, however, a silver lining: the Hogan administration is no longer interested in limiting the liability of landlords in lead paint cases.