Industry Advocate: It’s all about being in the right place at the right time

April 19, 2022 -  By
Bob Mann headshot

Bob Mann

A funny thing happened on the way to the integrated pest management (IPM) conference. Coincidence? Serendipity? Who knows? All I know is that I found myself in the right place at the right time.

About six months ago, I began the planning process for attending the International IPM Symposium in Denver. With a title like that, I was sure to be the dumbest person in the room, but it’s important to stay current with horticultural research so I can speak knowledgeably when advocating for the green industry. I was looking forward to my trip out west.

Meanwhile, at NALP, we began tracking a piece of legislation in the Colorado Senate, a resurrected bill from before the pandemic that would have far-reaching consequences for our industry. Senate Bill 22-131 sought to — among other things — prohibit the use of neonicotinoid insecticides for nonagricultural uses and to repeal state preemption of the pesticide regulation. The reports we received from various sources told us this bill had an excellent chance of passage.

The neonics have become a lightning rod for anti-pesticide activism, despite the mitigations we’re anticipating from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when it finalizes the reregistration of these products later this year. We continue to see legislation seeking to ban or restrict neonics in many states. State preemption essentially means that the ability to regulate pesticides is limited to the federal government, working in cooperation with the state government, to the exclusion of cities and towns. The theory here is that the safeguards at these two levels of government are sufficient.

Readying the troops

As the day of my trip approached, our legislation-tracking software informed us that the Colorado Senate had scheduled a hearing on bill 22-131, but upon learning of the interest in the bill, they decided to push the hearing back a week. All of a sudden, I realized that I was going to be in Denver one block away from the Capitol the day of the hearing. Toss a business suit into the luggage!

Before we get to hearing day, there’s lots of work to do, not the least of which is rallying troops to attend the hearing to testify. A few emails and Zoom meetings later, we had a solid group of NALP members that live and work in Colorado that could speak directly to the impact of the legislation on their businesses.

Finding consensus with our allies is also important. We reached out to our state association partners — not only in the landscape industries but in others such as golf — to gauge where they stand and how we can work together to bring cohesion to our efforts. We found considerable common ground in opposing this legislation.

On the day of the hearing, we learned that the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jessie Danielson, was offering an amendment she believed would blunt much of the opposition. She struck language in the bill that would impose further regulation on pesticide use near school buildings and another section that would fund a study of non-neonicotinoid treated corn seed. She also carved out agricultural uses of neonicotinoids, which is a curious tactic if your goal is to reduce their use since the overwhelming portion of neonic use is in agriculture.

Testifying against bad policy

When the hearing started at 1:30 p.m., Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee Chair, Sen. Kerry Donovan announced there were 90 witnesses scheduled to testify. Then began nine-and-a-half hours of testimony from folks all over Colorado (and some from far beyond) both for and against the bill.

The hearing went by quickly, as Senator Donovan proved to be an engaging chairwoman who made everyone feel comfortable and included in her committee, including a number of eloquent children who spoke.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the hearing was the willingness of those whose uses were carved out in the amendment who still showed up to adamantly oppose the passage of the bill. Each time a farmer would state opposition, the bill sponsor would reply that they were not affected by the bill. And each time, the farmer would reply to the effect, “I realize that. I am opposed to the bill because it is bad policy.”

NALP members were articulate ambassadors for our industry, describing our commitment to environmental stewardship and to the adoption of best management practices and IPM. Many testified for the first time. They learned they had nothing to fear. Speaking to a senate committee is a walk in the park compared to dealing with your customers.

As the testimony finally came to a close, senators remarked on their views on the bill and what they had heard from witnesses. One senator, Senator Rhonda Fields, participated remotely. For much of the hearing, she had her camera turned off. It almost seemed as she was mailing it in, not actually paying attention to the proceedings.

That turned out not to be the case at all. When it was her turn to speak, she let loose with a vigorous summation that proved the power of standing up and being heard by your elected officials. She explained that going into the hearing, she was very much expecting to vote for the bill. But after listening to the witnesses tell their stories, she was persuaded otherwise.

The bill was rejected on a 6-1 vote, with only the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danielson, voting in the affirmative. A huge win for our friends in Colorado.

Colorado Senate bill 22-131 failed by a vote of 6-1. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Colorado Senate bill 22-131 failed by a vote of 6-1. (Photo: Bob Mann)

Personal matters

What does this vote mean, and why is it important outside of Colorado? As the old saying goes, you don’t make any of the shots you do not take. If you show up and make yourself heard using sound arguments and personal stories, you can indeed persuade people. And you don’t need to be a professional speaker either — just willing to take the time to defend our industry.

The policies articulated in this legislation will show up again in other bills in other states. We must remain vigilant to meet these challenges. Colorado shows us that we can succeed.

What about me, you ask? Well, in all the excitement and preparation, I never actually attended the IPM conference. I did sign up to testify, but after waiting for almost the entire hearing for my name to be called, I had to bug out to catch a flight back to Boston. As soon as I left, Sen. Donovan called my name. Oh, well. It’s the result that matters and the result couldn’t have been better.

About the Author:

Bob Mann, LIC, formerly the agronomist for Lawn Dawg, is the director of state and local government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

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