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Mosquito Legislation Signed by Governor

On July 16, the Massachusetts House and Senate enacted the final version of the Mosquito Control Reform bill and this week the Governor signed the bill into law. We want to thank everyone who joined our call to action to call and email legislators to improve this bill. While we are still concerned about a few provisions in the bill, your outreach and advocacy led to several significant improvements. Thank you!

Proposed by Governor Baker in April, the original bill would have dramatically expanded the state’s authority to eradicate mosquitoes by chemical spraying. For rivers, chemical spraying can harm water quality, aquatic life and beneficial insects that are critical to river ecosystems and food chains. For this reason, we worked closely with the legislature to improve this legislation.

We would like to thank the many legislators who worked with Mass Rivers and our coalition of environmental partners to speak up in favor of proposals to amend and improve the legislation. We would like to especially recognize Sen. Jo Comerford, Rep. Carolyn Dykema, Rep. Mindy Domb, Rep. Natalie Blais and Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, all of whom worked tirelessly to improve this bill. Thank you for your leadership!

The Governor’s original bill would have allowed the Mosquito Reclamation Board, upon making a determination that there is an elevated risk of arbovirus, to spray pesticides anywhere in the state, with no advance notice, and no requirement to allow an opt-out process for spraying. There was also no sunset for these expanded authorities once a declaration of elevated risk was made.

After moving through both the House and the Senate, the resulting final bill was substantially strengthened, as it better balanced environmental protections with concerns about EEE. We are grateful that we were able to build in several strong protections for both the environment and human health in this legislation.

Included in the final bill:

  1. The state is given expanded authority to engage in mosquito control, only after the Department of Public Health declares that there is an elevated risk of arbovirus. The Department of Public Health must publicly publish the data supporting this declaration. Under that authority, the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board can then be active throughout the state. This includes public education, standing water drainage, ground larvicide application, and other steps in addition to pesticide spraying.

  2. Before any spraying, there must be at least 48 hours advance public notice, including notice to local boards of health, property owners who have opted out of spraying, and farms, including beekeepers and certified organic farms. Anyone can use an online form if they want to be informed of aerial spraying in their region. The notice will include a process for people to opt out of spraying.

  3. Cities and towns can also opt out entirely from pesticide spraying. If they wish to opt out, however, they must have an approved alternative mosquito management plan. The state will be required to provide guidance on appropriate “opt-out” plans.

  4. There is an overall directive in the bill that, “All actions taken under the authority of this section shall be designed to protect public health while minimizing, to the extent feasible, any adverse impact to the environment.”

  5. We are most proud that the bill establishes a Mosquito Control for the Twenty-First Century Task Force. Our current mosquito management system is a relic from the 1950s, and we hope that the Task Force recommendations will lead to a more modern system that incorporates the most up-to-date science about effective mosquito management and environmental protection. The Task Force includes several scientific experts and representatives from organizations concerned about land conservation, river protection, wildlife protection, agriculture, organic agriculture, and a statewide organization representing bee keepers or groups concerned about pollinators. We are pleased that we were able to include so many people on the Task Force who will bring a balanced understanding of the most effective ways to manage mosquitoes. All of the Task Force meetings must be open to the public, and they are required to hold a public listening session. Mass Rivers will be working with our coalition of environmental organizations to propose appointees to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

  6. The bill sunsets after two years and by then we hope to have enacted new legislation that reflects the recommendations of the Task Force.

If you want to read the final bill right now, you need to piece it together, using H.4851 as the base, and then make the changes specified in Senate amendment 1 to S. 2757 (we apologize for how complicated this is – this is the only public version of the bill right now).

The hard part comes next. Implementation of this legislation and the Task Force’s eventual recommendations will require careful monitoring and attention to the actions of the action of the Mosquito Control Board, and active participation with the Task Force. This will set our course on this issue for the next decades.

We will continue to work on this issue with our environmental advocacy partners and will keep you appraised of opportunities to weigh in during the implementation process.

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