Texas lawmakers consider bill to bolster West Nile defenses




Posted on May 1, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 1 at 5:52 PM

DALLAS — At the Jefferson Senior Center, Dallas County officials handed out cans of insect repellent donated by the DEET Education Program in Washington D.C.

For some, it may be their only protection against West Nile virus — especially those living in neighborhoods with vacant homes.

State and many local laws limit prompt treatment on properties with long grass, abandoned or neglected pools, old tires, or any sort of standing water, which could become breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

"It's unacceptable," said Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson.

"You have to send a notice — it takes like 10 days to see if you get a reply back," he explained. "You may even have to go to JP court and get a court order to enter a property. Or go to court."

Texas Senate Bill 186 would empower a public official to "enter the premises" immediately "to inspect, investigate, or abate the nuisance."

If and when it passes, the law wouldn't go into effect until September 1, after the peak West Nile mosquito season. Thompson is calling on cities to change local codes now so they can react to problem properties quickly.

Without fast action, he fears vulnerable seniors and many others may experience a deadly repeat of last year's West Nile outbreak.

Five samples in the Dallas County cities of Richardson and Highland Park have already come back positive for West Nile virus this year.

Mosquito surveillance is also in full swing in Tarrant County, where more than 200 traps are already set. So far, all have tested negative for West Nile.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com