Home rule won in Augusta last week, after a legislative committee unanimously voted against a controversial pesticide bill that would have removed the ability for municipalities to enact pesticide regulations that are stricter than the state’s.
The bill, LD 1505, was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage and appeared to mirror model legislation drafted and promoted by the conservative policy group the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. If passed, it would have overridden ordinances that have been enacted by more than two dozen Maine communities over nearly 30 years. But last Wednesday, the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee made a different decision — voting unanimously that the bill ought not to pass.
“We were very happy, of course, that the state and local government committee determined unanimously that communities should have the ability to protect themselves against pesticides they don’t want to be exposed to,” Heather Spalding, the deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said Monday. “We were concerned this was going to fly in the face of all the thoughtful work communities had done. We are very happy it was resolved. We are hoping it will never come back again.”
MOFGA was among the organizations and people that spoke out against the bill, which ALEC has said is designed to “ensure the safety of America’s food supply through the preemption of city, town, country, etc. pesticide ordinances.” In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that communities can adopt stricter standards for pesticide use than federal or state regulations. Still, the amount of pesticides sold for home use in Maine has sharply increased since then, from 800,000 pounds in 1995 to 5.7 million pounds in 2011, according to the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.
That’s one reason why Spalding believes it’s important that municipalities remain able to enact pesticide ordinances.
“Maine’s local ordinances vary widely in content and fit the unique needs of individual communities,” she wrote in her testimony in opposition to the bill.
John Jemison, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension professor who sits on the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, said board members spent three hours “sweating tears” earlier in May, after the State and Local Government Committee asked for a recommendation. In the end, the board had a split opinion, with four members in favor of the bill and two, including Jemison, opposed.
“Two of us were not comfortable telling a town what they could and couldn’t do,” he said. “I didn’t feel it was our place.”