Legislature acts on bills affecting farmers, ranchers

Issue Date: September 20, 2017
By Kevin Hecteman

The Legislature burned some midnight oil last weekend acting on many bills—including a number being watched closely by California farmers and ranchers—before adjourning for the year in the early hours of Saturday.

Among the bills approved by the Assembly and Senate, and now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's decision, is Assembly Bill 822, which would require state-owned or -operated institutions, except public universities, colleges and school districts, to buy California agricultural products if the bid is no more than 5 percent higher than a similar bid from out of state. School districts would have to take the California bid if it doesn't exceed the lowest out-of-state bid. The California Farm Bureau Federation sponsored the bill, authored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.

In urging the governor to sign AB 822, CFBF noted that California farmers and ranchers produce food under the strictest environmental and workplace regulations in the country.

"California should match its values by supporting farmers and their employees who are meeting these high standards," said Noelle Cremers, CFBF director of natural resources and commodities.

Another key bill was Senate Bill 49, authored by Senate Majority Leader Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, which sought to adopt as state law federal clean air, clean water and endangered species laws as they were on Jan. 19—the day before President Trump took office—and workplace safety standards as they were on Jan. 1, 2016. The bill also would have allowed state environmental agencies to adopt stricter regulations without any public input. SB 49, which CFBF opposes, ultimately was held in the Assembly Rules Committee for a lack of votes.

On the employment front, AB 450 by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, cleared both houses and reached Gov. Brown's inbox. If signed, AB 450 would require employers to demand search warrants for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions; would require employers to demand a subpoena before supplying ICE with any employee-related documents; and would require employers to notify the state Labor Commissioner and employees and their representatives about ICE enforcement and its results.

Amendments to AB 450 clarified that employers who provide documents to federal authorities as required by federal law would not be in violation of state law, and that the bill would be enforceable in state court only by the labor commissioner or the state attorney general. These and other amendments prompted CFBF and other groups to remove their opposition.

Gov. Brown has already signed two bills, AB 109 and AB 134, which constitute the 2017-18 Cap-and-Trade Expenditure Plan, including $300 million in funding to help farmers, ranchers and food processors meet air-quality and climate-change goals. The plan includes $135 million to go toward harvesting equipment, heavy-duty trucks, agricultural pump engines, tractors and other equipment; $60 million for food processors to implement greenhouse gas-reduction projects; $6 million for renewable-energy projects; and $99 million for dairy digester research and development.

"It is important to keep the state's food producers and value-added food processors thriving as they face regulations and costs unique to California," CFBF Director of Environmental Affairs Cynthia Cory said. "These incentives will allow growers and food processors to seek grants, loans, rebates and other trade-up opportunities for many types of equipment."

Additionally, the bills dedicated $200 million to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for fire prevention and forest health within the State Responsibility Area, and $74.8 million to compensate for the end of the SRA fees that had been charged to rural landowners.

The Legislature approved, by a close two-thirds majority, the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018, also known as SB 5. The bill, carried by De León, would place a proposition on the June 2018 ballot that would authorize $4 billion in general-obligation bonds to finance projects relating to drought, water, parks, climate, coastal protection and outdoor access. CFBF was neutral on SB 5.

Another bond initiative, being put together by Jerry Meral of the Natural Heritage Institute and several agricultural organizations, is expected to begin gathering signatures. CFBF continues to evaluate this bond measure, according to Farm Bureau Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley.

In other legislative action:

  • Employment: SB 63 (Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara), which was sent to the governor, would require an employer with at least 20 employees within a 75-mile radius to provide 12 weeks of protected parental leave to bond with a new child. Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill last year. AB 1565 (Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond), which would have immediately raised the minimum monthly salary owed an overtime-exempt employee to $3,956, was placed in the Senate's inactive file. CFBF opposes both bills.
  • Water: SB 252 (Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa) reached the governor's desk. It would require new water well permit applicants in critically overdrafted groundwater basins to provide their application information to their neighbors. Cities and counties with overdrafted basins would have to make public notice of new applications and make information available to groundwater sustainability agencies. CFBF and others dropped their opposition after amendments concerning notice requirements and local control. SB 623 (Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel), would have established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund and ensured the money went to the State Water Resources Control Board to help water systems where wells exceed limits for certain contaminants. The bill stalled, as did AB 747, which would have allowed Monterey County to impose a tax on the commercial application of fertilizers containing nitrogen within the county, with proceeds going to a similar replacement-water program. CFBF was neutral on both bills.
  • Energy: SB 100 (De León) would have required sellers of electricity to obtain at least 60 percent of their supply from renewable sources by 2030, instead of the current 50 percent. The bill also aspired to procure all of the state's electricity from renewable resources by 2045. Two identical bills, AB 813 and AB 726 (Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena) would have directed utilities to exceed state standards for renewable energy supplies, favoring solar and wind power over other sources, such as biomass, CFBF associate counsel Karen Mills said. CFBF opposes all three bills, none of which came up for a floor vote.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

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