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Updated: Legislators could act on CO detectors

by Anna Oakes

N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson said Wednesday that he is working with several legislators and stakeholders to pass a bill that could require carbon monoxide detectors in hotels in North Carolina.

The effort comes after the fatal carbon monoxide poisoning of 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams at Boone's Best Western earlier this month in the same room where carbon monoxide killed Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, a couple in their 70s, in April.

The 2013 legislative session is winding down to a close, with adjournment expected in late June or early July. The date to introduce new bills has passed, but Jordan said language could be inserted in an existing bill that's still alive in the legislature.

"We are working on something," Jordan said. "I'm not sure of the provisions that would be in it -- we're still working that out."

North Carolina building codes currently do not require carbon monoxide detectors in commercial properties like hotels, but they are required in new single-family and two-family homes. Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs and others have called for code changes in the wake of the Best Western tragedies.

When asked if the language being considered would require carbon monoxide detectors in all hotels, Jordan said, "We are looking at possibly doing something like that."

Whether detectors are required in every room or in specific rooms would have to be worked out, he added.

State Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone said the issue is complicated and that a solution will be challenging in light of the waning legislative session, which is primarily focused on finalizing a state budget.

"This is very serious," he said. "We have a good indication there's a major problem here, and a fix needs to occur." Soucek said he wants to hear from representatives of the safety, hotel and product industries to arrive at the best possible solution.

"I'm looking at statewide and local options," he said. "I don't want to enact a law that can be very expensive if it's not addressing the problem."

Soucek said he would like to find a quicker solution than forming a study group, however.

"Sometimes study groups take longer than I think is necessary," he said.

Earlier this week, the Boone Town Council voted unanimously to petition the North Carolina Building Code Council to amend state codes to mandate installation of carbon monoxide detectors in hotels.

"I think we need to look and see what we can do both at the state level (and) take more bold action," councilman Allan Scherlen said at the council's meeting Tuesday. "From my research, it appears that there are not many municipalities that are attempting to do it at the local level."

But town attorney Sam Furgiuele said state laws limit the town's authority to impose such requirements at the local level without state authorization.

"Anything we do really should be statewide," said councilwoman Lynne Mason. "These deaths were totally preventable through the use of carbon monoxide detectors. We need to take a stand and do something."