Idaho governor vetoes bill backed by crop-duster group changing pesticide regulations

Idaho governor vetoes bill backed by crop-duster group changing pesticide regulations

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Crop Dusters

ASHLEY SMITH • TIMES-NEWS Keith Johnson, a pilot with Ken Spray, sprays a field south of Twin Falls on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little vetoed a bill backed by a regional crop-duster association that would have changed some state pesticide regulations.

House Bill 487, pushed by the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association, originally stripped several parts of state rules for spraying pesticide. Earlier in the session, the same group successfully convinced lawmakers on the Idaho House’s Agricultural Affairs committee to loosen other state pesticide rules, claiming that the crop-duster industry was “double-regulated.”

The legislation was decried by farmworker advocates, especially since the rollback attempt came only months after more than a dozen workers in Parma were hospitalized for pesticide exposure, possibly after being sprayed by a crop-duster pilot.

An analysis from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office also warned that the bill would restrict the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s ability to enforce pesticide spraying regulations, forcing Idahoans to take pesticide exposure complaints to the federal level.

But the bill underwent serious changes after the Food Producers of Idaho, a powerful agriculture group composed of agribusinesses like Simplot and commodity groups like the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, came out against the bill shortly before its hearing in the Senate’s Agricultural Affairs Committee.

The new version of HB 487 retained much of the regulatory language that farmworker advocates and conservation groups had argued was necessary to protect workers and public health. It also would have created a set penalty matrix for certain violations of the state pesticide rules, instead of leaving some of the violation decisions to the discretion of the State Department of Agriculture.

Despite the bill’s changes, Little “reluctantly” vetoed the bill because it mandated negotiated rule-making for the bill.

“For the second straight year, the Legislature has chosen to not reauthorize fee rules, and as a result, my administration has had to republish rules as temporary to ensure they remain in full force and effect,” Little wrote in his veto letter. “Thus, the rules promulgated under this statute are currently being republished as temporary rules.”

The Idaho Press first reported the veto — the governor’s third of the 2020 legislative session.

Advocates and conservation groups said the veto would preserve existing protections for Idaho farmworkers.

“We are pleased the governor vetoed the bill,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, external relations director with the Idaho Conservation League.

Marielena Vega, spokeswoman for Vision 2C, a Canyon County chapter of the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, echoed the sentiment.

“Although we were not expecting to have to address this issue at the Legislature while also working to make sure the workers involved in the Parma incident were not forgotten, we see this as a good thing and will continue to monitor penalty standards for applicators at state level to ensure safeguards are strengthened,” Vega said.

During the bill’s last hearing, on March 12, the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils read a statement from Jose Ramirez, one of the farmworkers in the field the day of the Parma incident. An Idaho Statesman investigation published in October revealed that Ramirez and several other workers were still sick and paying medical bills linked to pesticide exposure.

“It’s hard to understand why this would happen,” Ramirez wrote in the March letter to lawmakers. “We are humans and honorable people.”

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