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Bill Carries Stiffer Fines for Misuse of Pesticides

by Stan Maddux

Published: Friday, February 14, 2020

Separate pieces of legislation carrying stiffer penalties for misuse of pesticides on farms is gaining traction at the Indiana Statehouse.

Indiana Farm Bureau is among the agricultural groups supporting the measures to make sure producers continue to have good access to the products.

The fear is that misuse of pesticides at some farms could result in limits on their availability or a ban when most crop producers use the chemicals safely, said Jeff Cummins, associate director for policy engagement with Indiana Farm Bureau.

"If they continue to cause damage and have use and misuse violations we risk market access to those products and they're critically important across the board for maintaining productive operations," he said.

House Bill 1119 is now before the Senate Committee on Agriculture for review after receiving unanimous support by the full House on Jan. 23.

On Feb. 4, Senate Bill 438 was passed 38-9 by the full Senate and sent to the House to be assigned to a committee for possible revision.

The House bill presented by state representative Don Lehe (R-Brookston) doubles the present fines to $500 for first time violators, $1,000 for a second offense and $2,500 for continued violations.

Lehe, who raises grain and livestock, hopes putting more of a sting to fines would cause violators willing to pay fines at their present level to think twice about spraying in windy conditions.

He said too much of the chemicals drifting from a specific targeted area can be harmful to nearby crops, homes and the environment.

"Some simply view the fine as a business cost, pay it and make no effort to alter their actions," Lehe said.

His legislation also creates a points system to be established for deciding if violators deserve just a warning or a higher level fine depending on the severity of the case.

In his bill, Lehe also calls for penalties on applicators not properly registered or licensed to ensure sprayers are adequately trained in their use of the chemicals.

The slightly different senate bill authored by Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) also calls for higher fines but appoints an advisory panel to study and recommend whether a point system should be used for setting penalties in each case.

The advisory panel's recommendation would have to be presented to the state Legislature by December for possible action in 2021.

Cummins said a points system is a more fair approach for deciding penalties because not all violations, causes and outcomes are the same.

He said minor violations, for example, depending on scoring would result in just a warning.

"We hope that creates a clear set of standards by which folks are assessed a penalty," he said.

He said the Office of the Indiana State Chemist has long struggled to achieve fairness with a structure governing enforcement being too rigid when circumstances dictate more flexibility in the penalties.

The Agribusiness Council of Indiana and Indiana corn and soybean groups are other supporters of the legislation.

Cummins said a doubling of fines viewed as somewhat harsh by some people involved in the process could be softened a bit in the final version of the bill.

"Where we find exactly that number is one of the things we're still negotiating with folks. That's a fair conversation to be had," he said.

He also said there could be other adjustments, a possibility for any piece of legislation working its way through both chambers of the Statehouse before a final version is decided on.

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