Following the discovery of elevated lead levels in water at Newark public schools, Gov. Christie said Monday that the state would begin requiring districts to test their water.
New Jersey also will lower its threshold for what it considers a blood lead level of concern in children, Christie said. That level would trigger earlier state intervention in lead exposure cases.
Under Christie's plan, the state will reimburse school districts for water testing. The Republican governor asked lawmakers to include an additional $10 million in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
"We've come to what is a smart but also aggressive way of dealing with any concerns any parent across the state might have," Christie said at a Statehouse news conference.
While public water systems must test drinking water and report results to the state, school districts are not required to do so.
That drew attention after the Newark school district reported in March that elevated lead levels were found in water in 30 of its 67 buildings. The district shut fountains and faucets and began a new round of water testing.
Last month, Christie cautioned the Legislature "not to overreact" to the situation in Newark, and questioned whether the state should be responsible for school district water testing.
On Monday, Christie said he decided it was the state's role to require testing because "there's public concern about it, for one."
He said he had been skeptical of a bill backed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) to require testing, because it would not have committed enough money to cover the costs. Sweeney's bill would have reimbursed school districts $3 million in the first year of testing.
Christie said the $10 million he is asking lawmakers to budget was "realistic."
The state will require districts to test water annually and report results to parents, though not to the state, Christie said. Asked how the state would ensure that districts were complying, Christie said, "I don't think we're going to have that problem.
"As long as we're paying for it, I doubt we'll have any problems with them releasing information," he said.
It will be "up to school districts to decide how they want to remediate," Christie said. He said students had long been given bottled water in Camden.
Sweeney said Monday that Christie "recognized and was willing to step up to do the right things there. There are times when we do actually get across to each other."
Christie also said the state would begin to intervene in more childhood lead exposure cases.
New Jersey requires universal testing of children ages 1 to 2 for lead levels in blood. Currently, if children test at a level of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter or higher, local health departments are required to inspect their homes for lead hazards and arrange for follow-up testing and treatment.
Christie said the state would now intervene if children tested at a level of 5 micrograms per deciliter aligning with the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 25 percent of states have adopted the CDC standard, Christie said.
Christie previously announced the dedication of additional money in the current budget to lead-based paint remediation efforts. Advocates voiced support for Christie's announcements but also have accused him of previously taking insufficient action.
Also on Monday, Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that would modify current law on compensation discrimination, making it illegal to compensate employees of one sex at a rate - including benefits - lesser than the rate paid to employees of the other sex for substantially similar work.
In his veto message, Christie listed a number of objections to the bill, including that it would allow employees claiming wage discrimination to recover unlimited back pay. He said he also disagreed with barring employers from requiring employees to shorten the statute of limitations of New Jersey's law against discrimination, and allowing for plaintiffs to be awarded triple their actual damages.
Such awards would make New Jersey "a liberal outlier," Christie said.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen), one of the bill's sponsors, said the legislation "would have helped to close the wage gap in our state" and added that "we are not going to give up on this effort."