Thursday, January 26, 2012

Structural Pest Control Service Winter Update

Whether companies who provide canine bed bug and termite
sniffing services should be licensed or require certification
was a topic of discussion at the January Advisory Committee
The Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee met today after a (literally) stormy day in Austin--and I don't mean politics.  Yesterday brought some wet relief to parched central and north Texas, as well as rare winter tornadoes in several communities.

Today's committee meeting was mostly uneventful in terms of actions; however some interesting topics were introduced that should lead to follow-up discussions in later meetings.  The meeting started off with a moment of silence for Bill Stepan, our committee member who passed away in November. David Kostroun then led the committee through responses to the Self-Assessment Questionnaire that we were asked to fill at the end of the year.

Priorities for the Committee
One of the priorities for the coming year that some respondents mentioned was better communication with the public about pest control issues and how to help the public find answers to questions about pest control, the reliability of pest control businesses, and pesticides.  Tommy Kezar noted that the TDA website formerly allowed visitors to view regulatory actions to see what companies had been recently cited or fined for violations.  This page is no longer view-able on the agency's new home page. In fact, apart from information on how to file a structural pest control complaint, there is relatively little useful pest control-related information for consumers on the new consumer protection site.  Given that the site is new, I trust that this will change.  One feature I always found useful was the ability to check a company's license information to assure myself that it was operating with a valid license.  I hope this feature is restored.

Kezar also noted a couple of cases that he has seen where license renewals have been held up because of problems with background checks. Department staff were, allegedly, not very helpful in responding to efforts by licensees to discover the particulars about why a background check failed.  Chief Administrator Kostroun promised to look into procedures for responding to such requests for information.

Performance Data for SPCS
Stephen Pahl, Administrator for the Consumer Protection Division of TDA (the new division that houses structural pest control) gave a brief presentation on data that the agency is required to report to the LBB (Legislative Budget Board). The data includes statistics on numbers of new business and individual licenses issued, complaints resolved and inspections conducted each quarter.  Some of the more interesting numbers for the Sep-Dec Quarter included:
  • 275 SPC business inspections were conducted in the fall of 2011 (slightly exceeded target goals).
  • 45 complaints were resolved that resulted in a formal enforcement action (more than double the target goal).
  • The 43 non-commercial establishment inspections (hotels, restaurants, local governments, etc.) was about a third of the target for the quarter; however staff attribute this to the priority they have placed on conducting school IPM inspections and some difficulties with new schedule-optimization software. 
  • 139 schools were inspected, representing nearly 70% of the schools scheduled for inspection in the year.  I understood that the rate of quarterly school inspections will likely taper off this year as software improvements are made to rebalance the scheduling of commercial and non-commercial establishments over the next few months.
  • Although quarterly data on school compliance rates for FY 2012 were not available, last year 52.4% of Texas schools were found to be in (complete) compliance during inspections. This metric, however, gives little insight in to the type or significance of non-compliance issues found by inspectors.
  • Complaint case sufficiency rate is the percent of cases sent to Austin from local SPCS inspectors that ultimately are approved for enforcement action.  A high sufficiency rate indicates that inspectors are not submitting many frivolous or unenforceable cases.  This year's sufficiency rate was 92%.
School IPM Coordinator CEUs
Michael Kelly noted that the Department will be prioritizing the effort to publish formal rules for the new school IPM Coordinator CEU requirement imposed by Sunset committee action two years ago. To refresh your memory, as of January 1, 2011 School IPM Coordinators are required to obtain 6 CEU hours on pest control, pesticide and IPM-related topics every three years.  We are now 13 months into the three year period, and rules for how this system will work have not yet been published.  Kelly handed out the draft rule which specifies that only one of the six hours must be in laws and regulations specific to IPM programs in schools (I have stated in the past that I think this is inadequate, but won't go into that today).  What is still missing from the rules, however, is a mechanism for approval of the school IPM laws and regs CEU, and specific instructions for when CEUs will be due.  It was suggested that there may need to be a new CEU category for School IPM rules and regulations. The committee agreed that coordinators who were certified prior to Jan 2011 should be required to complete their six hours by Dec 2013.  Newer coordinators should be required to get their 6 hours within three years of taking their initial 6 hour orientation course (which they must take within six months of appointment as IPMC). Presumably the Department will be publishing new rules for public review within the next quarter.

Should Bed Bug Dogs be Licensed?
One of the most interesting discussions was a review of some information collected by Leslie Smith on bed bug dog certification, and discussion about whether dog handlers should be licensed.  While no one is actually proposing that dogs be licensed, handlers and companies who provide dog-sniffing services appear to be another matter.  The committee asked if Kelly would come up with some proposals on possible licensing options so that the issue could be discussed more rigorously, and recommendations formalized by the committee at the next advisory committee meeting.

Agency Legal Staff
Deputy General Counsel for Enforcement, David Gipson, reported that the SPCS has been without an official attorney for several months. It has been difficult, he said, to find qualified lawyers willing to work for the salary offered by TDA. As a result, legal work for SPCS has been divided among three TDA legal staff. According to Gipson, this has the added advantage of minimizing the impact on SPCS programs when an attorney leaves for any reason.

The next committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 26. The SPCS is receiving applications for positions on the advisory committee, especially the two open seats for industry and a consumer position. If interested, you should contact Michael Kelly.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

I'm glad to know that this committees prioritizing regarding pest control. I know that a lot of people are suffering this kind of problem. I hope they will continue support pest control.