Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advising Austin

The Stephen F. Austin State Office Building in Austin is
home to the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Last Thursday, 21 November, was the first meeting of the new Structural Pest Control Advisory Committe (SPCAC), which provides input to the Texas Department of Agriculture's Structural Pest Control Service.  I say "new committee" because the size and composition of the committee has been significantly revamped since it last met in April. Only four of last year's committee members remain, and seven members are new.

By way of review, the SPCAC has an advisory role only and does not make or enforce rules governing pest control in the state.  The committee meetings are, however, one of the few venues where PMPs (and consumers) can formally offer input into the way the their industry is regulated (it is common, for example, for visitors to the SPCAC to sign up to present public testimony on subjects related to pest control).  The SPCAC is also a way for anyone who is interested in the sometimes mundane details of pest control in Texas to learn what is going on inside the halls of the Stephen F. Austin Building, home to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The changes to the committee this year are the result of a bill passed during the 2013 Legislative session that expanded the committee to 11 from the original 9 set by the 2007 Legislature. The committee seemed even larger this time, however, since one position (a consumer advocate position) had remained unfilled since the original committee was founded.

I found the expanded committee excited and ready to assume its new tasks.  Much of the meeting was devoted to learning the requirements for Open Meetings, and how to handle Public Information Requests; however I thought it would be good to introduce the new committee and share a couple of the more significant new business items discussed.  

New Membership List

  • Peggy Caruso, IPM Coordinator from Katy ISD, is an original committee member and represents the seat for a school district employee associated with school IPM.
  • Dauphin Ewart, of the Austin company "The Bug Master" remains from last year's committee and is one of three members representing the interests of structural pest control operators.
  • Warren Remmey, Jr. also represents the interests of structural pest control operators and is owner of Spider Man Pest Control in San Antonio.
  • Scott Dickens is the third structural pest control operator member, Past President of TPCA, and owner of Champions Pest Control in Spring, TX.
  • Some of you may remember Roger Borgelt as a former attorney for the Structural Pest Control Board. Roger was appointed as one of three members representing the public interest, and was elected to be the new committee chair at this meeting.
  • Dr. Nancy Crider is a faculty member for the University of Texas Southwest Medical School and a registered nurse.  She represents the public interest.
  • Nancy Zaiontz, of GSM Insurors of San Antonio, is the new member representing interests of consumers.
  • Jay Jorns, of JNJ Pest Control in Katy represents pest management professionals with experience in natural, organic or holistic pest control.
  • Dr. Thandi Ziqubu-Page is an original committee member and represents the Commissioner of the Department of State Health Services.
  • I also serve on the committee representing an institution of higher education with experience in the science of pests and pest control.
  • There remains one vacant, public member position on the committee.
I was impressed with the credentials and enthusiasm of the reformed committee, and I think it will work well together. I think the expanded size will also benefit all parties as more points of view are expressed.  Any of us who serve are always willing to answer questions and discuss issues with you.  For a current listing of the committee and its meeting dates, click here.

Revamped Web Search Tool

The new license search tool on the TDA website
provides a more user-friendly way to find
pest control licensees or businesses in Texas.
Mike Kelly, SPCS Coordinator, and Leslie Smith, Director for Consumer Service Protection at TDA, demonstrated and answered questions about the new web search tool for Texas Pest Control businesses.  Currently the TDA website allows consumers, or any interested party, to search for any license holder or business online.  Up until now the only way to search was to go to the SPCS page and click on Current Licenses.  There you see a set of files in CSV format (which can be opened in MicroSoft Excel).  One has to save the file and open it in a spreadsheet and search for the information. Not extremely user friendly.

The new search tool allows you to search by zip code and refine your search while looking on a zoom-able map. Choose by license category or search directly by a business name or license number.  This tool should be useful for anyone wishing to confirm a legal license holder, or to search for an official address and phone number.  Since its launch October 8th, 1245 people have accessed the map view feature. 

Compliant Advertising

A big issue for many pest control businesses is making sure that their advertising is compliant with state law governing deceptive advertising.  Texas Department of Agriculture staffer Michael Kelly asked the committee for input on some new wording for Rule 7.152, governing pest control ads.  The changes would mainly require all ads to include the business name as indicated on the business license, and the business license number.  It's interesting how many different issues must be addressed, even with such a simple improvement to the rules. For example, the committee pointed out that font size requirements (critical in Yellow Page or newspaper ads) might not apply to a website.  And the proposed wording didn't define clearly what constitutes advertising.  Would a Facebook page for a company, or a Craigslist or Angie's List ad, be subject to these new requirements? Keep your eyes open for a more refined version of the draft rules to come out soon for public comment.

New Testing System

In April the TDA rolled out its new examination system, implemented to allow anyone who has applied and pre-qualified to take their applicators' or technicians' or category exams.  Now applicants can test on any day of the week, and at any of 22 PSI Online testing sites throughout the state.  By all accounts the roll out has been successful with the new sites administering 582 certified applicator exams, 1 fumigator exam and 683 technician exams between 15 April and 13 November.  Statistics show that 44% of certified applicator candidates for pest control passed on their first try and 60% passed on their second try.  Pest control technicians passed 88% of the time on their first try.  

In addition to these topics, the committee discussed ways to better educate consumers on how to recognize and deal with unlicensed applicators, regulatory review of rules regarding license applicants with criminal backgrounds or arrests, and rules being written (in response to SB 162, recently passed) allowing military personnel to count relevant military experience in pest control toward their certified applicator and technician licensing requirements.  We also learned that the extensive rule clarifications, including CEU requirements for school IPM Coordinators, discussed in April have not yet been published in the Texas Register due to an unexpected staff shortage due to illness.  

Future Meetings

If you have any interest in attending future meetings of the SPCAC, they are normally held the third Thursday of the months of January, April, July and October.  Next year's scheduled meetings are on 23 January, 24 April, 24 July, and 23 October.  The meetings are always held at 9 am at the Stephen F. Austin Building at 1700 North Congress, in Austin, TX  78701. Because schedules do change, should a quorum not be available, it's a good idea to check with the agency or one of the committee members before showing up at the door.

1 comment:

Mike Merchant, PhD said...

I just learned that Mr. Todd Meddings, whom I originally listed in the post, has withdrawn his name as a public member of the committee. This means that there is an opening for a public member. If you, or anyone you know, is interested, the TDA will be accepting applications. For information call (866) 918-4481.