The House of Delegates brushed aside a last-minute lobbying effort by the chemical industry today and took action that will allow new pesticide control laws in Montgomery and Prince George's counties to stay in effect.
The House killed one bill that would have nullified the local ordinances and a second measure that would have replaced them with a weaker statewide law.
Despite the bills' defeat, one lobbyist hired by the chemical industry said today their fight is not over. Another bill the industry opposes, sponsored by state Sen. Stewart Bainum (D-Montgomery), is awaiting action in a House committee.
Bruce Bereano said his clients oppose the Bainum bill and added, "We're trying to put in any bill" that would outlaw local ordinances.
Bereano, a lobbyist who is representing two industry groups, predicted that the chemical industry will challenge the Montgomery and Prince George's laws in court. Another Annapolis lobbyist, James Doyle, is fighting the ordinances on behalf of ChemLawn, a leading lawn service company.
Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs has ruled that existing federal law preempts the local ordinances. But Jack Schwartz of the attorney general's office said the state is unlikely to take legal action to strip the counties of their ordinances.
The 141-member House agreed to reconsider both bills yesterday after each failed to receive the 71-vote constitutional majority needed for passage.
The Prince George's and Montgomery ordinances, passed in November and February respectively, require that warning signs be posted when pesticide applicators spray lawns.
Del. Joan Pitkin (D-Prince George's) described the House measure calling for a statewide law, which she sponsored, as "right-to-know legislation." She argued that people who are sensitive to certain chemicals need to be aware when neighbors are spraying such substances on their lawns.
The other bill, sponsored by Del. George Littrell (D-Frederick), would have prohibited local jurisdictions from enacting pesticide control laws on their own.
"At the very least, I believe we ought to allow the chemical companies to know what the regulations are statewide without having to go to 23 different jurisdictions," said Del. William Clark (D-Harford), who led the fight on behalf of the Littrell bill on the floor. " This bill would prevent a nightmare of litigation."
Prince George's County Attorney Thomas P. Smith, who had argued that federal statutes cannot preempt local ordinances, said today that he was "indeed gratified" with the House's rejection of the Littrell measure.
Montgomery County lobbyist Thomas Stone said that it would have been "bad government policy" to prevent local governments from enacting their own measures. "The general population in Montgomery County is very disturbed about the possible effects of pesticides. We think we're taking very prudent measures to advise our citizens of what may be the potential side effects on their health."