Weeding Out Government Pests

By Jennifer Barnett

Monsoon season has come and gone in Arizona, leaving in its wake a larger crop of weeds than usual. But Arizonans must be warned if their solution to a weed problem is to hire a gardener to spray weeds with over-the-counter products: Arizona’s Structural Pest Control Commission (SPCC) could be watching. (In Arizona, weeds are considered “pests” and thus are regulated by the SPCC.) If a gardener or landscaper cannot show he has 3,000 hours of experience actually spraying weeds in the last five years, a pest from the SPCC could scurry out from behind a bush to issue him a fine for as much as $2,000.

IJ client Gary Rissmiller just wants to earn an honest living without government interference.

According to the SPCC, only a select few are qualified to spray weed control products readily available over the counter at your local home improvement store; one of those qualifying requirements is 3,000 hours of actual field experience. Even if a gardener spent 40 hours a week spraying weeds and carefully documenting each hour, not including any time driving between jobs, it would take him a year and a half to get the requisite hours to become a “qualifying party.”

The Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter (IJ-AZ) is challenging this absurd requirement in our latest effort to secure economic liberty in the Grand Canyon state.

On September 28, 2005, IJ-AZ filed suit against the SPCC on behalf of Gary Rissmiller and Larry Park, two landscape maintenance professionals in Tucson, Ariz. Both Rissmiller and Park have been working in the landscaping and gardening field for more than a decade without incident. Two years ago, however, the Arizona Legislature, at the SPCC’s request, stepped in to criminalize an integral part of the services both men offer.

Before 2003, the SPCC laws exempted anyone like Rissmiller and Park who “functions as a gardener by performing lawn, garden, shrub and tree maintenance.” In 2003, the SPCC convinced the Legislature to rewrite the law and require several licenses before spraying weeds.

Equally disturbing, until 2003 another exemption existed for those who “own, lease or rent” the property they are spraying. The SPCC went after this exemption, too, convincing the Legislature to narrow the field so that now, outside of those who can meet the outrageous 3,000-hour requirement, the only people allowed to spray weeds with over-the-counter products are those who own and occupy the property. Landlords, renters or even just nice neighbors are now prohibited by law from spraying the weeds in their yard or the yard next door.

While the SPCC claims its actions were to protect consumers, the two years since the Legislature passed this law tell a different story. Investigators for the SPCC have spent the last two years hovering on streets near hardworking landscapers and gardeners waiting until after weed control products are sprayed so they can slap the unsuspecting gardener with a fine. In a one-year period, the SPCC targeted 56 improperly licensed landscapers and gardeners, issuing fines between $200 and $2,000. It seems the SPCC is more concerned with weeding out the competition than with uprooting garden pests.

Occupational licensing schemes around the nation serve only to cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. By challenging this outrageous licensing scheme, IJ-AZ is working hard to replace those rungs and allow Arizonans the freedom to pursue their chosen occupation.

Jennifer Barnett is an IJ Arizona Chapter attorney.


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