Tom Delaney, PLANET's director of government affairs, remains troubled by the ongoing saga of proposed H-2B guest worker visa rule changes, which would make it more costly and cumbersome for contractors to acquire seasonal temporary immigrant workers. The rule changes were supposed to have been implemented more than a year ago. However, the "program rule" change continues to get delayed due to ongoing court proceedings. The "wage rule" change remains blocked until March 27 due to a continuing resolution, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama this past October.
Regardless of how the drama surrounding H-2B eventually plays out, Delaney says PLANET will work with Congress to ensure that any plans for immigration reform in 2013 take into account the unique labor needs of seasonal employers such as landscape companies.
Delaney is also concerned about regulations relating to pesticide labeling. Inconsistency between updated OSHA guidelines and EPA (FIFRA) guidelines will likely cause confusion in the marketplace. For instance, a safety data sheet (OSHA) will have the words "danger" and "warning" on it, while the product label (EPA) will have the word "caution". "It is important that (OSHA and EPA) implement coordinated approaches to regulation so that regulated industry has a clear pathway to be in compliance with both agencies’ requirements," Delaney points out.
What the irrigation industry is watching
The landscape irrigation industry earned a big victory last year when EPA WaterSense decided to remove its 40% turfgrass limitation for new homes. “This actually took effect on January 1 of this year, and that’s great,” says John Farner, government affairs director of the Irrigation Association (IA).
IA says another positive development is that WaterSense has begun labeling weather-based controllers as products that save water without sacrificing performance or quality. “This year we’re hoping to get the ball rolling on soil-moisture sensor-based controllers,” Farner points out.
Also this year, IA will continue working with the newly formed Senate Water Caucus. “Led by Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), the Caucus is looking to enhance education of U.S. Senators on planning for drought and drought mitigation,” Farner says. As part of this effort, the Caucus will explore emerging technologies, conservation opportunities, and improved coordination between federal, state and local government.
At the state level, Farner says IA will continue to look for opportunities to improve irrigation contractor licensing legislation. The overarching goal is to ensure that contractors are qualified to perform irrigation installations and repairs, and that consumers know it. That also means that a qualified irrigation contractor should not also be expected to be a landscape architect or plumber, for example. This very issue arose in Oregon last year.
More specifically, IA is supporting the Florida Irrigation Society’s effort to work with its state government to establish a good voluntary license. Also, in Illinois, IA is hoping to play a role in developing long-term licensing legislation. The current license expired at the end of last year, but the governor signed a one-year extension to continue it through this year. “We’re looking forward to working with the state of Illinois and the Illinois Green Industry to develop new legislation in 2013,” Farner says.