Lawmakers consider banning wired glass

Putting wired glass in gymnasiums and other public areas would be banned under a Senate bill state lawmakers considered on Monday.Wired glass is any glass that has small steel wires running through it, often in square or honeycombed shapes.

It is commonly used in schools, gyms, hospitals and prisons.

Backers of SB824 said every year people are permanently injured when they run into the glass, shattering it and getting their limb stuck in the wire.

But representatives from the wire glass industry said in most cases there is no clear relationship between the type of glass and the injury. And they said wire glass was necessary for fire protection because it keeps flames from surging through a window once heat has shattered the glass.

Jeff Johnson, a Portland lawyer representing wired glass companies being sued by a former University of Oregon student for an accident involving the glass, said the bill was too far-reaching, and "lacked alternatives" for fire safety.

But Sen. Vicki Walker, a Eugene Democrat who introduced the legislation, countered that the bill only prohibits such glass in areas "subject to human impact."

Still, Johnson contended that such a place could be anywhere, depending on how "human contact" was interpreted.

Under the bill, the glass would have to be removed from such areas by 2012.

Though the main function of wired glass is to keep fire from spreading, backers of the bill say many incorrectly assume the wire makes it stronger than normal glass.

During the two-hour hearing, backers and opponents showed video clips of strength tests done on the glass, then claimed data presented by the other side was inaccurate.

There was also testimony from Jarred Abel, the former U of O student with a federal lawsuit against the wired glass companies.

Abel, who two years ago put his hand through wired glass while walking out a U of O gym door, told the committee he didn't want children to suffer the same fate.

Abel said the wire glass cut his four fingers on his left hand, severing the tendons and damaging the nerves. Two years later he still suffers from numbness and a lack of mobility in the hand.

"The little kids, when you have to explain why they won't have an arm, or won't be able to tie their shoes, it's sad," Abel said.

Abel's family is suing for $275,000 in damages from a host of glass companies.

Mark Long, from the Oregon Building Codes Division, said his agency had been crafting a revision on wire glass codes for the last year.

He suggested amending the legislation so that it only dealt with wired glass already installed. He said the building division would craft new regulation codes for future buildings.

600450 Lawmakers consider banning wired glass

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