During the 2020 Idaho Legislature, issues related to pesticide application were in the forefront. In the end though, the changes the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association (IAAA) wanted to the statute were grounded by the Governor.  Unfortunately the Governor is going along with the changes proposed to the rules, meaning that some important protections for public health and farm worker safety will now be weakened.

First, a little background – stay with me, this gets a little tricky

During the 2019 legislative session, the Idaho Legislature failed to approve and extend all administrative rules. As a result, 6,000+ pages of administrative rules were reconsidered during summer 2019, and submitted to the 2020 Legislature for review and approval. For most administrative rules, either the relevant House or the Senate Committee needs to approve the rules in order for them to be extended.

For “Fee Rules” however, both the Senate and House must agree on a Concurrent Resolution to accept them. Because the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s (ISDA) Pesticide Rules charge a fee for licensing, they are Fee Rules and could be rejected by just one body. In the end though, no Concurrent Resolution was advanced, meaning that all fee rules technically expired upon legislative adjournment and must now be reinstated through temporary rulemaking.

It’s also important to note that rules and statutes governing pesticide use in Idaho apply to both aerial and ground-based applicators. Currently in Idaho, there are 90 licensed aerial applicators, commonly known as crop dusters, with only about 50 who fly commercially. There are over 10,000 licensed ground-based applicators.

Finally, the context is important. In May 2019, dozens of farmworkers were sickened after being sprayed by a crop duster. Despite clear signs of pesticide exposure to workers, some of whom are still experiencing symptoms, the crop duster only received a warning letter, with no corresponding fines.

So what happened during the session

When the House Agricultural Affairs Committee considered the Pesticide Fee Rules, representatives of the IAAA testified in opposition to specific sections, including a general 10 mph wind restriction, notification requirements prior to aerial application, and limits on application around communities.

Although the IAAA did not submit any comments during negotiated rulemaking and the House Agriculture Committee didn’t solicit input from any other stakeholders, the committee went along with the IAAA and struck important public health protections from the Pesticide Fee Rules.

Following closely on the heels of the Fee Rule changes, the IAAA introduced House Bill 487, which removed sections from Idaho Law that protected the public and farmworkers from pesticide exposure. The original IAAA bill eliminated the prohibition on “inappropriate and ineffective” pesticides and similarly struck language that prohibited “faulty or careless” application. Finally, the bill mandated that penalties and fines for violations be incorporated into formal rule, instead of agency guidance.

The Idaho Conservation League and its partners, including Conservation Voters for Idaho, the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, and other farm worker and public health advocates opposed the bill on the basis of its legalization of “faulty and careless” application of “inappropriate and ineffective” pesticides. We weren’t the only ones, as the Idaho Attorney General pointed out concerns and the powerful Food Producers of Idaho opposed the bill as well.

The House passed the bill on a 52-12 vote, however the bill ran into turbulence in the Senate. The Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee sent the bill for amendments to the Senate Floor to restore prohibitions on “inappropriate and ineffective” and “careless” pesticide application.

As a result, the amended bill effectively only required the inclusion of penalty guidance in rule and passed with overwhelming support in the Senate (31-1) and in the House (65-0), and was submitted to Gov. Little for his signature.

On March 26, based on his concerns that the bill would mandate negotiated rulemaking and “may preclude temporary rules when necessary,” the Governor vetoed the bill. Because the legislature had already adjourned for the year, they were unable to override the veto.

In his veto message, the Governor also indicated that “the rules promulgated under this statute are currently being republished as temporary rules.” Unfortunately, the Governor’s Office subsequently changed course and will now concur with the House Agricultural Affairs Committee and remove important protections for farm workers and public safety.

Nonetheless, we anticipate that negotiated rulemaking will take up these provisions over the summer, and ICL looks forward to continuing our work to speak up for public health and environmental safeguards around pesticide use.