Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Advisory committee puts in a full day

State law requires that the Texas Department of Agriculture's Structural Pest Control Service be advised by a special public advisory committee.  Last week the SPCAC met for its quarterly meeting with a full agenda.  Present were Peggy Caruso (Katy ISD) and Johnny Hibbs (Carrollton Farmer's Branch ISD), public members; Dauphin Ewart (Bug Master Pest Control, Austin) representing the pest control industry; Dr. Thandi Ziqubu Page (Texas Department of State Health Services); and me, representing an institute of higher education.  Three other members (two pest control and one public member) were unable to attend, and one position on the committee (a consumer group representative) has been unfilled for three years.

This month's agenda was packed with topics about significant changes in pest control regulation in Texas.  I apologize for the long post today, but it was a long session with a lot of interesting discussion.

Penalty Matrix
As I discussed in my last report, one industry complaint heard around the state, especially during the tenure of the former Structural Pest Control Board, concerned the consistency of penalties for various infractions.  Two different companies with the same infraction might have substantially different fines.  To bring more transparency to the penalty process the SPCS has proposed a new penalty matrix, taking into account comments and recommendations made at our last advisory meeting.

The new version of the penalty matrix consists of a list of all possible infractions, each of which is assigned to one of three tables of penalties. The three penalty tables include: S1 (low hazard potential fines), S2 (moderate hazard potential fines) and S3 (high hazard potential fines).  As you might guess, fines go up from tables S1 to S3.  In the new matrix, a given violation type is merely classified as an S1, S2, or S3 infraction, with final assignment of low, moderate or high hazard to be determined by SPCS staff in consultation with counsel.  This will still allow some flexibility and discretion in assigning fines, but is more transparent than the previous system.  Discussion centered around whether it was better to have a very rigid or flexible system.  The committee preferred keeping some flexibility in the system, with the idea that the new matrix is less subjective and should be more consistent than the current matrix with its wide ranges of penalties.  This particular internal system does not have to be publicly reviewed, but can always be commented on once it is implemented.  A copy of the new penalty matrix should be available upon request to the SPCS.

The new system for taking technician and license exams is now up and running. The TDA has contracted with a test service provider, PSI Exams Online, to take over the examination role for structural pesticide applicators.  The new web page describing changes to the process of getting your exam is accessed here.  The new system is not only $11 cheaper, there are more testing centers than before, making it more convenient for most people.  Testing will no longer be offered at TDA offices, only at the PSI test centers.  To find a center near you go to the PSI website. To learn about the whole process, there is a detailed information booklet for test takers.

Changes to TDA Rules
As part of a routine four year review by the legislature, TDA staffers have been reviewing and updating the regulations pertaining to structural pest control. The committee was shown these proposed changes and provided feedback on each of them. Twenty-nine rules were reviewed, with some of them deferred for later action.  Some of the more interesting and important changes and clarification included:

  • Rule 7.134. Every other year licensees will be able to get all continuing education credits for the year via online or self study courses. The reason for the every other year limitation is that the TDA wants to continue to encourage face-to-face contact with instructors, and is still concerned about a certain loss of accountability of course attendees who do not physically appear at a CEU course.  This is a change from the current rule which only allows one CEU per year to be obtained using self-study or electronic courses. 
  • Rule 7.134. The rules will be clarified to ensure that certificates of completion for CEU courses must be kept for two calendar years after the calendar year in which the CEUs were obtained.  Apparently some folks were discarding their CEU proof of attendance exactly two years after the date of the class, which is earlier than was intended by TDA.
  • Rule 7.141. Every licensee and apprentice must carry their license or registration card with them at all times when doing pest control, and must show the card when requested by a customer, a TDA employee, a State Health Services employee, an EPA employee or a state or federal law enforcement officer.
  • Rule 7.146 (d. to be deleted) Indoor posting for schools, and other sites that require it, will no longer be required if the only pesticide application to be made to the structure is an outside perimeter treatment. 
  • Rule 7.147 clarifies that the applicator or technician does not have to physically hand or deliver the Consumer Information Sheet to a customer, only make it available to them (e.g., via website).  This wording is being changed to reflect changes made to the statute two years ago.
  • Rule 7.150 (a)(1)(D). Schools will no longer be required to conduct or produce records of annual facility inspection reports. While everyone agrees that facility inspections are important to do, there was a feeling that the requirement was burdensome on even the most diligent schools. The school members of the committee had no objection to this change.
  • Rule 7.150 (b)(2,3) The rules for CEU requirements for school IPM coordinators (SIPMCs) have been developed and, according to TDA staffers, will not go into effect until final posting of the rules. This means that, despite some understanding to the contrary over the past few years, SIPMCs are at this time still  not required to complete any CEUs. So if you're an SIPMC and you've been sweating getting your six CEUs before the end of the year--and wondering what classes you need to get, you can relax--at least for the moment.

    This rules clarifies specifically what the new CEU requirements will look like.  While SIPMCs do not have to carry a pesticide applicator's license, they do have to take a 6-hour class to teach them how to be a SIPMC. Four years ago the legislature passed an additional statute that requires all SIPMCs to have continuing education.  The proposed rule says that all IPM coordinators must obtain 6 hours of CEUs every three years, starting whenever the rules become effective (later this year), or at the date of completion of mandatory school IPM coordinator 6-hour training.  One of the six CEUs, according to the rules, must be in laws and regulations specific to school IPM in Texas.  The other five CEUs may be in pest, lawn and ornamental, weed control or general IPM categories, approved for a structural pest control licenses. According to what we were told, 3A (agriculture) credits would not be acceptable for re-certification.  Any SIPMC who does hold a structural non-commercial applicator's license, can also count any structural CEUs for SIPMC re-certification, and vice versa.
  • Rule 7.150 (d)(4). This rule now allows use of monitoring devices that do not use pesticides by unlicensed school district personnel for purposes of monitoring.  The committee asked that the rule clearly specify such devices are only to be used for monitoring, and that any applications of monitoring devices be under the supervision of the IPM coordinator. This rule attempts to balance schools' desires to be able to use sticky traps to know what's going on in their buildings with concerns about untrained and unlicensed individuals doing pest control. 
  • New Rule 7.151. This new rule is proposed to improve safety of stored pesticides by requiring that all pesticide containers in storage have a physical label and that any containers without a label, and of unknown identity, be disposed of, and not used for pest control.
  • Rule 7.176.  A new paragraph to this rule would prohibit pest control companies who provide WDIRs from providing termite estimates or conducting termite service on the same property as covered by the WDIR.  As a result of our discussion SPCS staff agreed to reexamine better ways to deal with concerns about fraudulent WDIR reports.

Lastly, there was some discussion of a House bill, HB3567, that would mandate a change in the composition of this advisory committee.  The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, would eliminate the Texas A&M (higher ed) representative and the representative of the Department of State Health Services, replacing them with industry representatives.  The existence of the bill in its current form puts at least a couple of us on the committee in limbo between now and the next scheduled meeting in July. If you have thoughts about this bill you can contact Representative Kleinschmidt or the Texas Pest Control Association.


R Huffman said...

Can you please clarify the change to Rule 7.150 (a) (1)(D). Your post uses the term "annual facility inspection", but I thought there was never an inspection frequency specified in the rule. Does this change mean no facility inspections are required? How does this relate to Rule 7.150 (b)(3)(B and C) that refer to facility inspections on campus buildings and grounds and periodic facility inspections? thanks for any clarification.

Mike Merchant, PhD said...

Yes, thanks for asking. First of all the facility inspection was something that was expected to be done above and beyond regular service inspections conducted by the pest control company. Facility inspections generally mean an extra trip to all facilities for the purpose of looking for deficiencies in sanitation, building integrity, maintenance, etc. The rule never specified an actual frequency for facility inspections, though some inspectors may have communicated that they were to be done regularly. This requirement was also listed in (b)(3)(B and C)as a responsibility of the SIPMC. These mentions are also deleted in the proposed rule changes.