Oregon’s House Health Committee passed House Bill 2131 Wednesday which (if it becomes law) would help enable tracking bed bugs in the state, by permitting pest control operators to report cases without exposing clients to a “public backlash”.
The bill is designed to keep the specific details of each case — who has bed bugs, and where — private.
If this truck comes to treat for bed bugs, should a public record be available?
The Multnomah County Health Department pushed for the new exceptions to public records law to set up a voluntary reporting system where pest control companies will feel more free to report bedbugs without fear of public backlash against their clients.
House Speaker Tina Kotek’s office said the bill could go to the House floor as early as next Wednesday.
Multnomah County wants to build a database of information about the bloodsucking critters to see if infestations are concentrated in particular areas or groups of buildings.
‘Our pesticide control partners are willing to give us the data as long as their clients are protected,’ said Lila Wickham, the environmental health director for the Multnomah County Health Department. ‘Good data is essential to the design of any tracking system.’
Wickham said shielding the exterminators would not impact existing records, as exterminators would be providing new data for the county to analyze. Their information about individual property owners would be only available to county health departments.
Tracking of bed bug cases in residences and other locations is sorely needed (both in Oregon and elsewhere). The resulting records would give us a better idea how widespread the problem is, and allow agencies to take action to help fight the problem.
So what exactly would be kept secret?
… the following information reported by pest control operators or otherwise in the custody of a public health authority must be maintained confidentially and is not subject to disclosure under ORS 192.410 to 192.505:
(a) The location of a site where a pesticide intended to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate an infestation of bedbugs has been applied or is to be applied;
(b) The identity of any person who owns, rents or leases property at the site […]
(c) Any information describing or pertaining to the infestation or suspected infestation at the site […]
It’s important to note that the bill does allow this protected “who/what/where” information to be accessed by certain parties:
- public health authorities
- the State Department of Agriculture
- the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services
- the Pesticide Analytical and Response Center
Not everyone agrees that data about the spread of bed bugs should be shrouded in secrecy, however. An Oregonian editorial on Tuesday argued that “it seems backward and counterproductive for Oregon to enact a law classifying bedbug problems as a special and toxic kind of shame.”
The Oregonian notes that
HB2131 could give county health departments significant power to hide unpleasant information about public housing, hotels, apartment complexes, college dorms or any other place where bedbugs take up residence. It also sets a precedent for the government to keep other information from the public, using the odious rationale that people must be protected from information that might upset them or cause them to respond in inconvenient, unmanageable ways.
And while part of me feels that bed bug case tracking needs to happen one way or another, and that this bill just might facilitate that happening sooner, I do also find the Oregonian’s argument very compelling:
Part of the work is reducing the stigma of bedbug problems and helping people understand that bedbugs can crop up anywhere, including four-star hotels and granite-countertop condos. The more people and agencies talk about the issue and the more they trade best practices for getting rid of the parasite with minimal pesticides and cost, the more progress Oregon will make in preventing a full-scale invasion.
What do you think?
Is it better to get a bill like this passed so tracking of bed bug cases can happen, even if only public authorities know exactly what is happening and where?
Does H2131 make it more likely that bed bugs get tracked, and tracking gets implemented more quickly?
Or should we fight to reduce shame (in the long run) and expose the truth by instead tracking bed bug cases publicly, even if this means people may be embarrassed or ostracized (in the short term)?
Would tracking bed bug cases publicly instead make it more likely that vulnerable people get help, and hard-hit areas get the attention they need? Or will it just mean pest management professionals are pressured by clients not to report bed bugs?
Update (2/14): The Capital Press reports this bill has passed in the Oregon House and is now headed for the Senate. The HB2131 page on the Oregon Legislative Bill Tracker notes:
House vote February 13, 2013
Third reading. Carried by Kennemer. Passed.
Hit the comments below to share your opinions!
Photo credit: “Rosie checks out the Alpha SayFrog.com Pest Control trucklet,” by Wonderlane, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.