Governor will decide on bills affecting farms


Issue Date: September 7, 2016
By Christine Souza

The fate of many bills that passed both houses of the state Legislature rests with Gov. Brown, now that the 2015-16 legislative session has ended—with advocates for farm groups noting several successes but one significant disappointment.

California Farm Bureau Federation Administrator Rich Matteis said the organization achieved "a number of meaningful victories on myriad issues," but was very disappointed by passage of an agricultural-overtime bill, Assembly Bill 1066 by Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

"Working with a broad team of agricultural organizations, we made very clear the negative impacts this measure would have on the incomes of farm employees, but many legislators chose to ignore the facts. Instead, emotion ruled the day, rather than logic and reason," Matteis said.

He said CFBF and other farm organizations would urge the governor to veto the bill, after "giving serious consideration to how this will impact jobs and wages in the farm community." (See President's Message to take action.)

AB 1066 would expand overtime requirements for agricultural employees by requiring premium pay for farm employees after eight hours of work in a day or 40 hours in a week.

Farmers and organizations that oppose the bill say it would hurt farm employees and their families by reducing their hours.

Related to transportation, farmers and ranchers support two bills that would affect pickup trucks currently enrolled in the Basic Inspection of Terminals program and agricultural vehicles used during harvest. Andrea Fox, CFBF legislative policy analyst, said AB 1960 (Lackey, R-Palmdale), would exempt farmers and ranchers from the California Highway Patrol BIT program. The BIT exemption would apply to pickups and/or pickup and trailer combinations used solely in agriculture not-for-hire, with a total gross combined weight rating of the pickup and trailer that does not exceed 26,000 pounds, and the pickup having a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 16,000 pounds. The bill was amended to add a six-year sunset, requiring CHP to collect safety data and report to the Legislature at the end of the program, Fox said, adding, "This will determine whether or not these pickups will remain exempted from the BIT program."

Farm Bureau also supports AB 995 (Bigelow, R-O'Neals), which would create a new transportation pilot program in Madera, Kings and Fresno counties. Agricultural vehicles now restricted to a one-mile travel distance would be able to travel 20 air-miles when transporting harvested goods from the field to the first point of processing, Fox explained.

"Those who enroll in the pilot program won't have to register and they won't have to pay weight fees, but they will have to be in the BIT program and obtain a motor carrier permit as part of the pilot program," Fox said.

Data collected from the program would be used by CHP and DMV to draft a safety report for the state Legislature. Results of the report would determine if the program goes statewide.

Democratic leaders sent a strong message to businesses last week after passing legislation to expand the state climate change program. Senate Bill 32 (Pavley, D-Agoura Hills), would establish a new target of greenhouse gas emission reductions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, to be implemented by the California Air Resources Board. The second piece of the package is AB 197 (Garcia, D-Coachella), which opponents, including Farm Bureau, say is intended to create the semblance of regulatory accountability and legislative oversight regarding the state's expanded climate change program. Gov. Brown has said he would sign both bills.

With extension of the state's climate change program now certain until 2030, the dynamics changed dramatically on a bill that would force CARB to reduce methane by 40 percent, gases used for refrigeration by 40 percent and black carbon—predominantly from wildfires—by 50 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. Among the emission-reduction targets set by SB 1383 (Lara, D-Bell Gardens), the reduction of methane would come to bear very heavily on dairy and livestock manure management, according to CFBF Director of Environmental Affairs Cynthia Cory. CARB has already decided that reducing methane would make an immediate beneficial impact on climate change, and has proposed a regulatory framework requiring methane reductions from dairy and livestock operations through methods such as installation of anaerobic digesters or switching from flushwater lagoon systems to solid scrape.

"We were going to get regulated one way or the other. This way, we have a more approachable percentage and number of opportunities for a reality check," Cory said.

Farm Bureau, dairy associations and other agricultural groups negotiated with lawmakers to reach a compromise tied to $50 million in dairy methane emissions funding. As part of the compromise, such a reduction in emissions for dairies can only proceed if CARB and the state Department of Food and Agriculture identify a workable way to limit cow methane prior to requiring regulations.

Cory said SB 1383 provides extensive research, incentive funding and cost and technical feasibility analysis that allows checkpoints and reviews that would not have been the case without the legislation.

In a related action, lawmakers approved a $900 million spending plan to forward state climate change policies. Lawmakers agreed to spend two-thirds of the money collected from the state's air emissions cap-and-trade program.

Relief was given to biomass plants through passage of SB 859, which calls on retail sellers of electricity to enter into five-year contracts for at least 125 megawatts of power from biomass facilities that generate electricity from forest materials removed from specific high-fire hazard zones.

Among other bills of interest:

  • SB 661 (Hill, D-San Mateo) known as the "Call Before You Dig" legislation, revised rules governing steps to be taken when material in the ground is moved that protects underground structures such as natural gas lines. The bill would create a new state board within the Office of the State Fire Marshal that would have authority to enforce provisions and impose financial penalties for violations.
  • SB 1167 (Leyva, D-Chino) directs the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to propose an indoor heat illness and injury prevention standard to the Occupational Health and Safety Standards Board no later than July 1, 2019.
  • AB 1755 (Dodd, D-Napa) would enact the Open and Transparent Water Data Act, requiring the California Department of Water Resources, by Jan. 1, 2018, to create, operate and mandate a statewide integrated water data platform.
  • AB 2805 (Olsen, R-Modesto) would require CHP to create the California Agriculture Cargo Theft Prevention Working Group, with the intent of responding to cargo theft.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.