Senators introduce bipartisan bill to require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing

The bill, introduced by Senators Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., follows an NBC News investigation into carbon monoxide deaths in public housing.
Security workers patrol Allen Benedict Court on Feb. 10, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. The public housing complex was condemned and hundreds of residents forced to vacate after gas leaks caused the deaths of two men.
Two men died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the Allen Benedict Court public housing complex in Columbia, South Carolina, in January 2019. Sean Rayford / for NBC News

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By Suzy Khimm

A bipartisan Senate bill to require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing was introduced Thursday in the wake of multiple deaths of low-income residents from the toxic gas.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., worked closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to draft the legislation, following an NBC News investigation that revealed the lack of protection for millions of families living in federally subsidized properties.

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At least 13 public housing residents have died of carbon monoxide poisoning since 2003, NBC News found, but HUD does not require CO detectors in the federally assisted housing that it oversees for more than 4.6 million low-income families.

“This bill will save lives — period,” said Scott, who began working on a fix after two public housing residents in South Carolina died of carbon monoxide poisoning in January, in a statement. He described the legislation as “a meticulous, bipartisan bill that has wide support and a path forward onto the floor.”

HUD Secretary Ben Carson called the bill “a simple and easy way to stop preventable deaths” and commended Scott for his work on the legislation. “Simply put, carbon monoxide alarms will save lives,” Carson said in a statement.

The legislation requires carbon monoxide alarms in federally assisted apartments with gas-fired appliances, fireplaces, attached garages and other potential sources of the fatal hazard, in accordance with the International Fire Code, according to a press statement. The bill would cover public housing overseen by HUD as well as rural rental housing overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“No family should have to fear an invisible, silent killer when they’re supposed to be safe at home,” Menendez said in a statement. "I’m glad to have worked across the aisle with Senator Scott on this lifesaving legislation and look forward to the day the CO Alerts Act is passed into law.”

In June, the House Financial Services Committee unanimously approved a separate bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing, including $300 million in funding. The bill mandates at least one detector on each floor of federally subsidized rental apartments, according to standards established by HUD, and has also been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Scott’s staff said they will work with the Senate's appropriations committee to determine a specific level of funding for the legislation.