Legislation, News, Opinion/Editorial/Commentary

Commentary: Farm Bureau Takes Stock of Key Bills Affecting Agriculture

From CFBF.com, California Farm Bureau Federation, Rich Matteis, 8 Jun 2011.

Last Friday marked a key deadline at the state Capitol. That was the day that any legislation introduced this year had to pass out of its house of origin or be trapped there at least until next year. Sometimes, legislation fails to pass out of a committee or the house of origin outright and sometimes, when the bills do not stay on pace with key deadlines, they become “two-year bills”—in other words, they are dead at least for this year.

Here at a midpoint in the legislative year, it is a good time to take stock of where agriculture stands, legislatively speaking.

Wherever I go in Farm Bureau these days, I always get questions about the status of the state budget negotiations or Senate Bill 104 (Steinberg, D-Sacramento), the “card check” legislation that would deprive farmworkers of the right to select unions through secret ballot elections.

With regard to the budget, there is no resolution yet although it is rumored there will be a creative procedural attempt by the Democratic majority this week to approve a final budget package without Republican votes, along with a measure to allow counties, school districts and community college districts new authority to levy taxes. Under the proposal, those taxes would not take effect until there is at least a majority vote of the electorate in the affected jurisdictions and, apparently, that raises some constitutional questions.

Regarding the card check bill, that legislation is still being held in the Senate. As of last Friday, it had not been sent to the governor for his consideration. Once he receives the bill, he will have 12 days in which to sign or veto it, but it’s up to the Senate when to send the bill to him. Everyone’s priority in the Capitol right now is the budget, with a June deadline breathing down the collective necks of legislators and the governor.

Here is a quick status review of bills of particular interest to Farm Bureau:

Water: On the water front, there are two measures of key interest to CFBF. One is SB 34 (Simitian, D-Palo Alto), which would result in a fee-based system to pay for public benefit costs of water infrastructure—including an astounding $20 per acre of land irrigated for agriculture ($10 per acre if the state Department of Water Resources determines best management practices are being utilized for a particular crop). Fortunately, this one is a two-year bill, would require a two-thirds vote for passage and is not moving forward this year. Another key measure, Assembly Bill 359 (Huffman, D-San Rafael) requires local agencies to identify groundwater recharge areas, provides protections for those areas and requires mapping of them. Farm Bureau has been opposing the measure due to inadequate property owner notification provisions, but fortunately, amendments have been worked out with the author and sponsors and we have removed our opposition. The bill passed the Assembly on a 74-1 vote.

Labor: The card check bill has been getting most of the attention from the agricultural community, but Farm Bureau has been working on other labor-related bills as well. Three onerous labor bills opposed by Farm Bureau did not make it out of their house of origin: AB 10 (Alejo, D-Salinas) would have raised the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour and indexed it to inflation; AB 950 (Pérez, D-Los Angeles) would have required any drayage truck operator to be an employee of the company who arranges for their services (effectively banning all independent contractors or owner operators from operating in California ports); and SB 129 (Leno, D-San Francisco) would have made it very difficult for employers to take disciplinary actions against employees regarding marijuana use in the workplace.

On the other hand, AB 243 (Alejo) requiring farm labor contractors to disclose information on worker pay stubs about the farmers and ranchers the employees work for did move out of the Assembly. So did AB 51 (Yamada, D-Davis), restricting the use of payroll cards. Both bills now head to the Senate. SB 459 (Corbett, D-San Leandro), which makes the “independent contractor” designation more restrictive, passed the Senate and will progress to the Assembly. Farm Bureau opposes all three measures.

Farm Bureau also continues to oppose legislation regarding the Cal/OSHA appeals process. A number of amendments have been taken to SB 829 (DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek) to make the bill less troubling, but there remains work to be done on this bill as it moves to the Assembly.

Environment: SB 535 (de León, D-Los Angeles) passed the Senate. It would allow the Legislature to allocate the revenues raised under the state’s mandatory climate change program (AB 32) and place the funds in a new California Communities Healthy Air Revitalization Trust for use in reducing greenhouse gases in disadvantaged communities. We oppose this measure.

Farm Bureau joined others representing business interests in opposing AB 1207 (Furatani, D-Long Beach) relating to liability with regard to exposure to hazardous materials. Under the bill, all statutes of limitation for any personal injury or property related to such exposures would have been eliminated. The bill is now a two-year bill. Agricultural stakeholders including Farm Bureau succeeded in getting key amendments to AB 1176 (Williams, D-Santa Barbara), which would have imposed unworkable requirements on the Department of Pesticide Regulation with regard to the pesticide registration process, jeopardizing the future availability of key crop-protection materials. With the amendments, Farm Bureau is now neutral on the bill, which did not make it out of the Assembly by Friday’s deadline and will be taken up again next January.

Land Use: Things are going well with regard to land use issues in the Capitol. AB 1265 (Nielsen, R-Gerber) to reinstate the Williamson Act alternative sponsored by CFBF last year is already in the Senate and gaining momentum. Farm Bureau also supports SB 618 (Wolk, D-Davis), a bill to encourage locating utility-scale solar energy facilities on other than prime agricultural lands. Physically impaired or marginally productive land could be used for such projects but even then, reclamation of the land would be required if a solar use easement is abandoned or not renewed. Last, but certainly not least, earlier in the year Farm Bureau joined others in successfully opposing SB 588 (Evans, D-Santa Rosa), which would have granted the Coastal Commission broad new authority to levy penalties against landowners. All in all, it has been a pretty good year for agriculture on land use issues.

Food Access: Access to healthful foods is a hot topic and there are several bills moving through the Legislature to promote it. AB 6 (Fuentes, D-Sylmar) improves access to CalFresh, California’s food stamp program, by streamlining the required paperwork, which would result in the sale of more California agricultural products through greater participation in the program; AB 69 (Beall, D-San Jose) improves access for California seniors by integrating CalFresh with Social Security Administration efforts; and AB 581 by Assembly Speaker John Pérez funds a new initiative to expand access to healthful foods in underserved communities. Farm Bureau supports and is working for passage of all three measures.

Miscellaneous: In addition, other bills Farm Bureau supports that passed out of their house of origin last week include legislation to make theft of copper with a value of $950 or more grand theft; extend the sunset of the Highway 101 exemption that allows licensed livestock carriers to utilize longer trucks on portions of the highway in Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino counties; expand the ability of students to use a Career Technical Course to meet high school graduation standards; extend the invasive mussel prevention program; and expand the reach of “net metering” to any renewable energy resource, thus opening opportunities for net metering in agriculture. In addition, Farm Bureau-sponsored legislation to enable the use of carbon monoxide for the control of rodents and other vertebrate pests is also progressing through the Legislature.

Final decisions on many of these bills remain to be made between now and September, with opportunity to speak up in support of bills Farm Bureau favors, and to amend or defeat those that would harm family farms and ranches. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for Farm Team Action Alerts by looking for the icon on the CFBF website at www.cfbf.com. Your assistance will be crucial in helping Farm Bureau protect family farms and ranches.

(Rich Matteis is administrator of the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be reached at rmatteis@cfbf.com.)

Source: CFBF.com, California Farm Bureau Federation, “Commentary: Farm Bureau takes stock of key bills affecting agriculture” by Rich Matteis, 8 Jun 2011.

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