State of the States
ANDY ARCHITECT, NPMA Chief Operating Officer
As we’ve come to expect, state capitals have been in overdrive to propose and enact laws, making up for lost time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our industry has watched closely as red states continue their ambitions to reduce what many see as unnecessary regulations while blue (and purple) states are pushing the pendulum further against what they feel is the residual Trump overreach in D.C.
From a structural pest control industry perspective, this has created a unique challenge in advocating for and promoting our industry while pursuing sensible regulations that keeps our industry essential and professional in the eyes of the consumer. This has then been compounded by the 2022 mid-terms, state elections and local races, where politicians are exciting their base through rhetoric and actions they feel will get them re-elected.
How will all this translate to 2023 and the impact on our industry? While it’s hard to predict, proverbial storm clouds are certainly on the horizon, leading to what can be an ominous year or a picturesque sunset. To best understand what our industry is up against, it’s important to look at the state of states over the past 12 months as we prepare for a busy legislative cycle.
"2022 felt like a game of Whac-A-Mole, every time we knocked him back into the burrow, he reappeared someplace else," said Bill Welsh, SPAR of the Michigan Pest Control Association. This was most evident when it came to pesticide preemption. States from California to Massachusetts and even longtime red ones like South Carolina have seen efforts by local cities to ban pesticides within their borders. "By allowing a city to impose regulations would be a disaster for our industry. Our techs do 8-10 stops per day and having to track and maintain a list of each county and what products can and can’t be used gets very burdensome," says Walsh. Additionally, mosquitoes and ticks don’t care about artificial boundaries, so if you can’t effectively treat for them in a county with a pesticide ban, it can negatively impact a neighboring county."
We’re also seeing local bans in states that do have pesticide preemption. This year in Arlington, MA, we saw a town change its bylaws to restrict pesticides on public and private property. While this is a violation of state law, it does put added pressure on the industry to work with state government to remind the locality they don’t have the ability to pass or enforce these types of laws. NPMA, working with members of the Public Policy Committee, have begun a campaign to educate states’ Attorneys General about statewide preemption. "This is a new avenue of relationship we need to work on," says Melissa Manns, a member of the Public Policy Committee. "Democrat or Republican, AGs should understand how this impacts our industry and public health."
Following a concerted effort to defend and promote preemption in states, NPMA has also been playing Whac-A-Mole with various pesticide bans. This year, rodenticides and neonics continue to be a hot target. Fortunately, the industry prevailed in defending uses of these products, culminating with Governor Newsom of California vetoing a bill to ban non-ag uses of neonics in the state. According to Jim Steed, SPAR from the Pest Control Operators of California, "This precedent veto really speaks to the need for sound science in decision making. Through this veto, Newsom said that pesticide decisions should be made by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, not through the legislature."
Thanks to NPMA’S SPARS
Nearly eight years ago, NPMA revived the State Policy Affairs Representative (SPAR) Program in anticipation of compounding legislative cycles at the local, state and federal levels.
This program was designed to create a partnership between NPMA and state pest control associations to quickly track and respond to changes in legislation and regulation in all 50 states, tribes and territories, and in Canada. Each year, state associations appoint a SPAR and vice-SPAR who serves as the point person in a state for policy efforts. Each day, NPMA, utilizing an advanced keyword search software platform, tracks bills in each state and at the federal level. If a "hit" is found on any keyword (i.e., termite, arbitration, rodenticide), NPMA’s policy team quickly reads the bill and, if pertinent, shares it with the respective SPAR and state leadership.
This is where NPMA’s SPARs jump into action and take a proactive approach to push back against legislation or amend language to ensure our industry has the ability to protect people and property from pests. As a long-time SPAR, Larry Treleven knows the importance of being ready to act. "From my perspective, being the first industry in the door to explain what the unintended consequences of a bill on our industry might be is crucial to our success," says Treleven. "I’ve seen multiple times where a legislator has no idea of how our industry operates, and when I can quickly explain how our technicians are using products and processes to protect constituents from bed bugs, mosquitoes, ticks and other public health pests, they begin to understand the need to amend language in our favor."
Over the past 12 months, NPMA, through the support of our strategic partners and envu, have begun to formalize training for our SPARs. In December, NPMA hosted the first annual SPAR Bootcamp, designed to provide tools and resources that will shield our industry from negative policy outcomes. "Form relationships, even when you don’t have issues" was the advice of New England SPAR and Public Policy Chair Ted Brayton. "I’ve learned through my time as SPAR and through my attendance at Legislative Day that legislators and their respective staff are people, too. They dislike ants in their kitchen and roaches in their children’s schools as much as anyone. Many are customers of our industry, and it is imperative we form relationships before we need them. That way, when policy makers are considering a bill, they call us first as a trusted resource."
As 2023 gets underway, we know our network of SPARs will be critical to the growth of our industry. As a member of NPMA and the broader pest management community, reach out to your SPAR and ask them how you can take part at a state level. "We’ll need all the help we can get this year" says Chris Haggerty, SPAR for the Illinois Pest Control Association. "It’s always nice to have colleagues join me in Springfield, IL, to meet with legislators or testify for or against a bill. It takes a collective approach to be successful and I encourage you, whether seasoned in policy or not, to get involved—you may not realize it, but you’ll be making a tremendous impact."