Editorial: Don’t let the bedbugs bite

Bedbugs are back. The blood-sucking, nocturnal, skin crawlers are a growing problem, particularly in Multnomah County.

How bad a problem? State officials don’t know.

Multnomah County has asked the Legislature to pass a bill, House Bill 2131, to prohibit the state from releasing public records about bedbug infestations. Then, perhaps, pest control companies, hotels, apartment buildings and other locations where people live might more freely disclose information so state and local authorities can better combat the bugs.

The question is: If the state knows there is an infestation at say, a hotel, don’t customers have a right to know what they are sleeping with and may be transporting back to their home? But even more basic than that is that this bill would keep almost nothing secret. The state does not require any reporting of bedbug infestations, nor does the bill.

Bedbugs are formidable insects. They don’t spread disease, though they can wreak their own brand of havoc. Their bites can swell and get itchy. Some people are allergic. The bugs can be difficult and expensive to eliminate. An adult bug can live for a year without dining on someone. It can cost $5,000 to clear a home. Bedbugs can cause mental health issues because of the fear that they are creeping across the skin and the stress of dealing with them.

Stephen Keifer, a tourist accommodation specialist for the Oregon Health Authority and a member of a Multnomah County bedbug task force, says the state does not collect much information now about bedbug infestations other than what it gets in phoned complaints from consumers. Similarly, pest control operators don’t have to report what pest they spray for to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. They have to report the pesticides they use.

Deborah Kafoury, a Multnomah County commissioner, argues correctly that better information would better equip officials to fight the bugs and learn the scope of the problem. And she is right that it’s easy to understand why hotels or other institutions would not be excited to release information about an infestation if they knew it would become public.

But this bill does not clearly solve the knowledge problem without a reporting requirement. It would even ban disclosure of bedbug infestation information to the Legislature so the Legislature would not know if it was ever appropriate to keep a ban in place. If the bill was amended to require reporting of infestations, a temporary ban on disclosure might be justified.