Friday, May 6, 2011

Advisory Committee Gets Updates, Homework

The Texas Department of Agriculture's Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee met in Austin last week. I have served on the committee for two plus years, and have written about the advisory committee in the past (search this site for the term "advisory committee").  The committee represents the public and the pest control industry, and meets quarterly to get updates, and offer suggestions and feedback to TDA, on rules and regulations pertaining to pest control in Texas.

Budget Update & Department news

This quarter's meeting included an update on TDA's budget status in the legislature.  House Bill 1(HB 1) (in this session the House takes the lead in drafting the state budget, next session the Senate takes the lead) proposes a 45% cut in the TDA budget.  This seemed incredibly high to me for an agency budget cut, but I wasn't detecting any feeling of panic among Assistant Commissioner Jimmy Bush or other TDA staffers at the meeting.  According to Bush, while such cuts will likely mean a major restructuring of the Agency, TDA does not see any major impacts on the operation of the Structural Pest Control Service (the division of TDA that oversees and regulates the pest control industry in the state).  Much of the cuts being proposed would come from programs at TDA that do not bring in revenue through licenses or fees, namely marketing and the rural economic development divisions of the agency.

The committee was introduced to two TDA attorneys that have recently been assigned to the Structural Pest Control Service.  Mary Luedeker and Lisa Hoyt will take over all new structural pest control cases, working with the agency and with industry to interpret and enforce laws and rules relating to pest control in Texas.   

Legislative Updates

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dr. Ambrose Charles reported that the Texas Council on Environmental Quality has drafted a discharge permit plan for pesticide applications near water which has been accepted by the U.S. EPA.  He noted that the deadline for implementing this program was recently delayed until October 31, but that there is some question whether this new permitting program will ever go into effect.  He reported that H.R. 872 was recently passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives by a wide margin.  This bill would exempt pesticides labeled under FIFRA from being subject to the Clean Water Act permit system. A companion bill, S. 718, was also introduced into the Senate.  If that passes and both houses agree on a joint version of the bill (there are differences), Congress could effectively bypass the recent court decision that would require permits for pesticide applications for aquatic weed control, forest pest control, mosquito control and other pest control around water. The paperwork and manpower requirements, supporters say, will be expensive to communities and agencies, and will not result in improved water quality.  Environmental groups oppose HR 872, saying it would be a vote for dirty water.  If you have question about how the Texas water permit system works, Dr. Charles is familiar with the provisions of the Texas permitting system.

Katherine Wright-Steele gave a legislative update on four bills relating to the pest control industry that are currently in the Texas state legislative process.  Senate Bill 3, containing language that would repeal all school IPM regulations in the state, has been previously discussed here.  HB 2741, HB 2742, and HB 2743 were introduced by Representative Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington.  All appear to have been introduced with the support of the Texas Pest Control Association.  House bills 2741 and 2742 serve to give TDA more leverage in regulating advertising, restoring some of the authority lost in the last legislative session.  The house bill 2743 seeks to restructure the Advisory committee, eliminating the university (yo!) and department of State Health Services representatives and making six of the nine positions filled by pest control professionals (three would be public members). Status of these bills is still uncertain and there are currently no companion Senate bills.

Wood Destroying Insect Reports

The committee received some homework from Jimmy Bush. Members were asked to review and provide input into the Wood Destroying Insect (WDI) Report (Form No. SPCS/T-4), WDI report inspection procedures (Rule 7.175), and the chapter on WDI inspections in the AgriLife Extension Study manual (B-5075).  This follows discussion from other meetings on ways to reduce the numbers of complaints received each year from the public about WDI reports and inspections.  In 2010 the TDA received 20 complaints related to WDI inspections, approximately 10% of all complaints received.  While some felt that this number of complaints is very low compared to the number of inspections conducted each year, there does seem to be room for improvement.  Improvements to the form itself, as well as the need for improved training and certification for WDI inspectors was discussed. 

A group of industry members (Eric Melass, Mike Dickens and Debbie Aguirre) appointed by the committee late last year  recommended that enforcement of existing rules rather than new regulations was what was most needed. They also suggested that all WDI inspectors be required to carry a certified applicator's license and that CA tests have a section devoted to WDI issues.  If this change did not result in fewer problems, only then should TDA consider creating a special license subcategory for WDI inspectors.

CEU courses

The committee was also charged with reviewing staff recommendations on restructuring CEU course offerings.  A group of SPCS staff reviewed the two existing rules (Section 7.134 and Section 7.135) and offered a draft version of the rules with suggestions for improvement.  One of the most significant concessions in the new version is to allow the use of an online course to meet someone's entire annual recertification requirement.  The only limitation under this proposal would be that online courses could not be used in any two consecutive years to meet CEU requirements.  This is because there is concern that, despite recent improvements in technology, the department is still unconvinced that online courses can fully substitute for face to face training. 

Other changes in Section 7.135 would include eliminating speaker qualification forms, and doing away with a requirement that online course takers pass an exam with at least a 70% to get their CEU credit and be proctored by a certified applicator.  It's not clear under the draft rule how sponsors will guard against abuse of online courses without the proctor requirement.  In public testimony time, Don Ward, Executive Director of the Texas Pest Control Association, expressed the association's general support of online courses if abuse issues can be addressed.  He also expressed a preference for certifying speakers over courses, seemingly the opposite of the new rules.

If you have suggestions for improvements to the CEU or WDI report process, you should contact one of the Advisory Committee members before July 28, or plan to attend the next committee meeting on that date.

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