State Policy Affairs Representative (SPAR) Program Holds First Virtual Meeting of the Year

The SPAR program kicked off its first virtual meeting of 2022 on January 6th, as the industry must contend with at least 443 pieces of legislation carried over from 2021 in all 50 states—and the number of bills will likely double to close to 900 by the end of the two-year session. SPARs serve as liaisons between NPMA and state pest control associations on public policy matters. Over 50 SPARs from around the country attended. The meeting was led by a SPAR leadership panel consisting of Bonnie Rabe, Rollins Inc.; Ted Brayton, Griggs & Browne; Kevin Lemasters, EnviroPest; Bill Welsh, Rose Pest Solutions; and Jim Steed, Neighborly Pest Management.

The importance of the NPMA SPAR program, according to Kevin Lemasters, Co-SPAR and Public Policy Committee Past Chair: “The SPAR program provides a support and mentoring opportunity for each state to ensure they have people engaged and protecting the industry. Most individuals have no idea what happens on the political side of things in their state, putting the industry at risk. Jake and the SPAR team provide the support you need to be successful.”

The SPAR leadership panel and NPMA Director of Public Policy, Jake Plevelich, covered array of issues and tactics to advocate for the industry and what to expect when participating in the SPAR program. It was made very clear that state issues are the most abundant and consequential for the structural pest control industry. All 50 states have the authority to regulate pesticides and pesticide applicators. Since there is a lot of gridlock in Congress and attempts to legislate pesticides are most likely to succeed at the state level, the importance of state engagement was covered in-depth. SPARs learned that cultivating and maintaining relationships with lawmakers and regulators is relatively easy and can go a long way in bolstering and defending the industry. Waiting for an emergency to forge relationships with lawmakers and regulators was strongly discouraged.

NPMA Public Policy Chair Bonnie Rabe stressed the urgency for involvement in public policy and the necessity for the SPAR program: “It is important for the industry to remember we can have a role in our own regulation, not just sit back and ‘watch the game.’ By understanding and actively participating in the regulatory process at the federal and state level, we can ensure requirements put into place enhance our role as protectors of public health, ensure fair and equitable business practices, and allow us to adequately do our job to protect our customer’s family, home and businesses from pests. The SPAR program helps accomplish this goal for the industry. Often those sponsoring laws or regulations do not have a full understanding of the industry and the SPAR program provides a way to quickly deliver reliable expertise and information on an issue to legislative or regulatory officials so informed decisions are made.”

Interacting with lawmakers, staff and regulators was covered in-depth but also the importance of several tactics and resources that are used when rank-and-file PMPs advocate for our industry. One of those tactical resources is VoterVoice grassroots campaigns, a software program that we use to have our membership convey industry positions to lawmakers with relative ease. For example, in order to be designated as an essential service by state governments, our industry launched grassroots campaigns in 31 states that resulted in over 18,500 grassroots messages sent to lawmakers and governors. Michigan SPAR Bill Welsh expands on the importance of VoterVoice with, “I think using VoterVoice helps establish contacts and start the relationship piece with the right people in the legislature or with regulatory officials. It will also help establish constituent matching ability with key legislative members. It will help you engage other member firms in the process rather than doing it all alone. It may be just enough to help your members along and get them involved in the process with coaching from you.”

Another major topic that was covered was the importance of testifying before legislatures. This may be the most “official” act that a SPAR does and is vital for our success. Our industry submits testimony on roughly 30-50 bills a year and has SPARs testify orally around a dozen times a year. NPMA offers a lot of testimony writing assistance and guidance throughout the process, but it is our SPARs that execute and defend the industry when the lights are on and everyone is watching. New England Pest Management Association (NEPMA) SPAR and Public Policy Committee Vice-Chair Ted Brayton asserts the important points of testifying as a SPAR: “When testifying, remember YOU are the expert in the room and the pest management industry is seldom the target of the proposed legislation. Your role is to professionally point out the unintended consequences of the legislation on their constituents and our industry and, when possible, offer alternate language to the bill.”

Last but not least, industry veteran and California SPAR Jim Steed might have said it best regarding the importance of the SPAR program and what it means to NPMA members: “The SPAR program allows you to access the experience and resources of your colleagues all over the country. It helps with both messaging and strategy. Our best chance to win local battles is to draw together in the SPAR program and support each other.”

It will be a consequential year in 2022—we are going to need every SPAR, state association and member off of the sidelines and into the game to bolster and defend our industry.