High among my reasons for serving in public office is a profound obligation to protect our one planet earth. I look upon the privilege of representing my forward-thinking hometown, Oak Park, with the same affection. In the Illinois Senate, I have promoted broad environmental policy, such as renewable energy and energy-efficiency goals, and have also responded directly to local input, including the discussion in Oak Park around the use of pesticides.
Let’s start with the obvious: I am a legislator, not a scientist. But our common understanding of the impact of chemical use has changed dramatically since many products were first introduced. Protective actions must adapt accordingly. When advocates asked for my help to allow Oak Park and other communities greater local autonomy to regulate pesticide use, I came to believe they should be given the chance.
Under current Illinois law, local authority to restrict pesticides generally falls under state preemption, meaning in most communities, including Oak Park, local laws cannot be more restrictive than state law. This authority makes sense for some public purposes, but when it comes to pesticide use, I believe the time has come for enhanced local control. Communities have opted to ban plastic bags, offer compost programs, and partnered to dispose of paint, batteries and electronics, all due to public health concerns and community support.
Local leaders should have the same leeway to limit pesticide use, chemicals ultimately designed to alter the natural environment, if they deem appropriate.
I sponsored legislation in 2014, SB 3565, to alter the preemption law, but found limited support among my colleagues. When the time is right, I will try again. I am now working on legislation, SB 1626, to increase public notification when pesticides are used in a residential setting.
If not collectively ready to give locals more authority, let’s at least enhance information available to parents and homeowners. My legislation would require that those little plastic flags be changed to easier-to-read plastic signs; require that notification be at every entryway, including backyards; and increase penalties for failure to notify those people who have requested notification when a neighbor’s yard is being sprayed. SB 1626 has been approved by the Illinois Senate. Hopefully, the House and the Governor will follow suit.
I will listen eagerly to Oak Park’s debate on pesticides. Mother Nature is mighty and ever resilient, but informed changes, both large and small, are required to ensure a healthy and sustainable path. The science is always changing. There’s always one more weed to pull, but we only have one planet earth. Let’s keep finding new ways to protect it.