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Crazy as a bedbug?

(Cross-posted from Legislative Watch)

Members of the House Business Lobbyist’s Commerce Committee will take up what appears to be one of the more nonsensical legislative proposals of the session this morning. The subject matter is that most unpleasant of topics — bedbugs.

As most everyone is aware, bedbugs are growing problem in the U.S. For decades, most of North America had been bedbug free. Unfortunately, the combination of a ban on several unsafe insecticides and the increase in global travel has lead to their re-emergence. In the past few years, bedbugs have been found in hotels, shelters, hospitals, universities, schools, apartment buildings and private homes. Bedbugs don’t discriminate. They can and will infest any kind of human dwelling – from the most cramped student apartment to the most luxurious five star hotel. They do not carry disease, but can cause physical and psychological discomfort.

One of the biggest problems with bedbugs is that they are very difficult to officially “eradicate.” Pest control companies can treat for bedbugs and often have great success, but it’s  essentailly imposssible at this point to say that they are “gone.” The little varmints are just too hard to see.

Though bedbugs are an equal opportunity pest that can pop up just about anywhere (often without being noticed) some landlords have decided that they need legislation to affirmatively impose the liability for their presence on tenants. Under the bill in question, a tenant must notify his or her landlord within five days of suspecting the presence of bedbugs. Failure to do so will result in all kinds financial liability for the tenant — including the cost of pest control treatments.

Unfortunately, this approach makes no sense at all and will only make matters worse. The fact is that there is no one to “blame” for the presence of bedbugs as anyone can bring them into a home. Most people don’t even know about bedbugs and will not even know that they have them. Similarly, many tenants — especially low income seniors and people with disabilities — do not have the means to pay for extermination.

The bottom line: bedbugs are a societal problem that isn’t going to be solved by making tenants financially liable. For better or worse, we need a comprehensive, community-based approach (indeed, the state already has a task force studying the problem) rather than an approach that tries to shift the cost onto vulnerable individuals.

In this sense, this silly little bill is sadly emblematic of the 2011 session generally.

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