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Legislative lawyers question constitutionality of lead-based paint budget item

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - State legislative attorneys question whether a last-minute item in the proposed state budget is constitutional.

The measure says that over 170 families cannot win product liability suits against the lead-based paint industry, unless those families can identify the manufacturer of the paint which made their children sick.

Republicans decided in 2011 to nullify an old Supreme Court ruling, and require the paint identification in future cases. The new budget measure applies retroactively to cases filed between 2006 and 2011.

Wednesday, the non-partisan Legislative Council said it might be unconstitutional to change the legal playing field that far back.

Peter Earle, who represents lead-based paint victims, says he’ll challenge the budget measure if it’s approved – and he believes he’ll win. If he does, Earle says taxpayers would have to cover the costs of his legal challenge.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says lawmakers will most likely press ahead with the measure. Vos, who’s a landlord, says he considers Earle’s cases against paintmakers to be frivolous.

Vos says lawmakers should try to fix problems even if a court may rule against them later.