|After lying dormant for most of the summer, the anti-pesticide ordinance in Prince George’s County Maryland appeared on the County Council’s agenda for debate on this past Tuesday along with the distribution of a new draft from the bill’s sponsor, Thomas Dernoga.
In the wake of the previous council hearing in July, NALP staff repeatedly contacted Dernoga’s office asking to engage in dialog to amend his bill to protect member companies from the devastation the legislation would wreak. No reply was received.
Upon learning of the new hearing, NALP staff reached out to individual members of the council asking to once again meet via Zoom platform to discuss the ramifications of the bill. Only then did NALP staff hear back from Dernoga’s office, complete with the new draft of the bill that included further carveouts for impacted parties, yet no such accommodations for licensed and certified professional lawncare applicators.
Dernoga agreed to a meeting with staff and a small group of members that occurred on October 7th. While contentious, Dernoga agreed to entertain proposed amendments from NALP as long as they were received by the end of the day that Friday. Hot on the heels of the meeting with Dernoga was another meeting with Council Members Franklin and Hawkins in which staff and members were able to reinforce our positions with them.
Tuesday’s meeting of the council began at 2:00 PM and our bill was last on the agenda of approximately 10 items. Even though we had anticipated a long slog waiting to be heard, we were surprised when at 8:00 PM rolled around that the chairman suggested that due to the slow progress of the council that consideration of our bill be postponed until their next meeting. So after waiting for six hours, we begrudgingly signed off.
Thursday’s meeting of the council began at 1:30 PM with CB-08-2020 as the first item on the agenda. After some perfunctory remarks by council staff as to the scope and legality of the bill, the chair opened up the meeting to the public for remarks. Twenty people had registered to speak, each given three minutes to make their case.
As it turned out, fifteen of the twenty represented industry. Representatives from Weed Man, Lawn Doctor, MRW Lawns. Level Green and Denison Landscaping painted a picture of unfairly being targeted and of the consequences their companies would suffer if the bill passed. Jon Gaeta from RISE joined NALP’s Bob Mann in testifying against the bill. Testimony from the green industry was fantastic, speakers were compelling and persuasive in their comments.
At the conclusion of the public comment period, the chair then opened debate amongst the council members beginning with Council Member Dernoga, who valiantly tried to defend the premise of his bill and the restrictions that he was proposing. When the conversation passed to other members of the council, it was immediately apparent that great reservations were felt by many on the council as to the structure of the bill and the far-reaching economic impacts it would have.
Then Council Member Deni Taveras took the floor. As the chair of the council’s environment committee and a former EPA official that worked with pesticide policy, she was the first person that NALP reached out to for a meeting. She famously did not show up for an in-person meeting with several NALP members almost exactly a year ago. Taveras subsequently met with us via Zoom meeting on June 16th and spent an entire hour discussing the policies being proposed in this bill.
Only now when she took the floor, she launched into a full-throated defense of our industry and how she felt we were correct on our point that pesticides are indeed heavily regulated by EPA and the Maryland Department of Agriculture. She was fore-square against the advance of the bill and then moved for the bill to be tabled indefinitely. Under council rules, once a councilor makes such a motion, all debate stops. The motion was seconded and passed by a vote of 7-3-1.
This was a big win for our members, especially in light of the fact that the first time this bill was debated by the council it was approved unanimously. The impact of local members interacting with their elected officials cannot be understated and should serve as a perfect example of how each of us should be known to our own elected officials long before adverse legislation is introduced.
NALP staff has reached out to the council in the wake of yesterday’s meeting to thank them for their deliberations and to urge them to engage with NALP and others to work on this issue to find solutions that embrace the environmental benefits of landscapes, best management practices and integrated pest management protocols.