If you happened to walk down the hall of the Rayburn House of Representatives office building Tuesday, you would’ve noticed staffers and legislators carrying tiny succulents back to their offices.
The succulents were take-home gifts from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), who hosted a Learning Lab for legislators and their staffs during the annual Legislative Day visit to Capitol Hill. In an effort to educate legislators on issues facing landscape and lawn care businesses in their districts, NALP members visited offices, and the Learning Lab rounded out the day with education outreach.
Earlier in the day, dozens of NALP members boarded buses for Capitol Hill, including a dozen members of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA). They trekked from one side of the Capitol building to the other to see their representatives in the House and the Senate.
Scott Grams, executive director of ILCA, pointed out the two main issues their state is dealing with: the H-2B guest worker program and possible pesticide regulations. Grams told Jonathan VanderPlas, legislative counsel for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.-R), that the number of seasonal guest workers just isn’t enough for the state’s businesses.
“Most landscape businesses are operating at 60 percent capacity because of labor shortages,” Grams said.
And with the hurdles they have to jump through to get approval for guest workers, and the cost involved, the number of ICLA member businesses using the H-2B program has dwindled from 100 members to only 30, according to Grams. The program’s cumbersome application process aside, the workers are desperately needed due to lack of availability of laborers.
“We would ask for his continued support for the guest worker program,” Grams said, referring to Kirk.
Claire Storti of Scott Byron & Co. and the ILCA regulatory and legislative committee chairperson says she feels H-2B doesn’t belong in the larger immigration discussion taking place in the country. She said because it’s a seasonal guest worker visa only, the applicants must sign an affidavit stating they aren’t seeking permanent residency in the United States.
When speaking with a staff member of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.-D), who opposes the guest worker program, it seemed comprehensive immigration reform may be the only road forward for H-2B for this senator.
“I know so many companies who use it and treat their workers well and how many American jobs it does create,” Grams emphasized at Durbin’s office.
While some legislative staffers felt the H-2B returning workers provision program may see a temporary renewal in an upcoming resolution, the long-term outcome of the provision is up in the air.
“Obviously November will tell the tale,” Grams says, referencing the upcoming presidential election.
While in the office of U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.-R), Grams made it clear that the 13th district of Illinois has the largest amount of landscape companies in the state, therefore a large number of the small businesses affected by H-2B legislation would be under Davis’ district.
Harold Enger of Spring Green Lawn Care addressed pesticides with each congressional office because it is an issue that has come up on the state and local levels.
“These are important tools to protect the investments of our clients,” Enger said of pesticides.
During a visit with Doug Lee, legislative director for U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (Ill.-D), the ILCA emphasized the relationship between landscapers and agriculture — since Illinois is largely an agriculture state.
“If agriculture is the keeper of rural America, then we’re the keeper of the ecology of urban America,” says Rusty Maulding of Nature’s View, Inc. and the ILCA president.
Frank Santana, legislative assistant for Davis, said the office is supportive of agriculture’s and the green industry’s efforts, and one way to help is by educating the public about pesticide use.
“We only use them when necessary,” Enger says. “We apply them at the right place, and the right time.”
During the Monday night reception after Renewal & Remembrance, the NALP revealed a new award called the Tom Delaney Award for Excellence in Advocacy.
The first recipient of the award was its namesake: Tom Delaney, for his nearly 30 years serving in the lawn and landscape industry. Delaney first joined the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) in 1989, which merged with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to become the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). Just last year, the association rebranded to the National Association of Landscape Professionals. His most recent position with NALP was the director of government affairs before he stepped down in November 2015.
Recently, the NALP hired Paul Mendelsohn as vice president of government relations. For the past several months, Mendelsohn has been working alongside Delaney for a smooth transition.
When accepting his award and a flag that was flown over the Capitol in his honor, Delaney said of Legislative Day on the Hill: “The success we’ve had is from everyone coming and participating. Work to get others to eventually come in your place.”