Governor acts on wide range of farm-related bills


Issue Date: October 12, 2011
By Kate Campbell

In a flurry of bill signings and vetoes at his deadline last weekend, Gov. Brown acted on the last of the more than 800 bills sent to him this legislative year, including a number of bills important to California farmers and ranchers.

The governor signed all eight of the bills sponsored or supported by the California Farm Bureau Federation and vetoed several others Farm Bureau had opposed. (See bill summary.)

In addition, Brown adopted changes to state agricultural labor laws by signing Senate Bill 126 on Sunday, a measure the governor himself proposed.

The bill sanctions agricultural employers for wrongdoing during a union election. SB 126 allows the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to certify a union as the bargaining agent for employees if it finds employer misconduct during a union election.

"Farm Bureau helped write the original Agricultural Labor Relations Act and would have preferred that it not change," CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis said. "But in the way the governor has crafted this amendment, he has preserved secret-ballot elections and has found middle ground, all the while taking a targeted approach to this issue."

Although farm labor advocates had pushed for legislative changes to existing overtime rules for agricultural employees and to permit "majority signups" or "card check" proposals, instead of requiring a secret ballot for union election, Brown suggested his own changes, which were incorporated into SB 126.

"Earlier in the session, the governor vetoed SB 104, the card check legislation, which would have had a detrimental effect on agricultural employers," Matteis said. "In evaluating the session overall, agriculture fared pretty well."

For example, Brown signed Assembly Bill 1236, which prohibits local governments from requiring use of the federal E-Verify system. Because the system has issues of accuracy and carries high implementation costs for businesses, AB 1236 maintains the intent of federal law while ensuring that private employers retain the ability to choose whether to participate in the electronic verification program. Farm Bureau supported the legislation, which was authored by Paul Fong, D-Mountain View.

In the area of renewable energy, the signing of SB 489 removes unnecessary barriers to small-scale renewable energy projects. Biomass and biogas producers will now be able to participate in the state's net energy metering program. Authored by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, the Renewable Energy Equity Act will make it easier for small-scale bioenergy projects to connect to the grid and help the state meet its renewable energy goals.

California farmers lead the country in producing on-farm renewable energy, said Jeanne Merrill of the California Climate and Agriculture Network.

Farm Bureau supported AB 6, which the governor signed. Introduced by Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles, it removes the requirement that applicants for the state food assistance program, CalFresh, be fingerprinted. Farm Bureau also supported AB 69, carried by Jim Beall, D-San Jose, that makes it easier for low-income Californians to qualify for food assistance programs.

Brown also signed AB 634, which assists landowners with control of burrowing rodent pests, such as gophers, using carbon monoxide. Sponsored by Farm Bureau, the five-year law, carried by Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills, also calls for developing educational materials on the proper use of delivery systems and developing recommendations for future extension of the law.

By signing AB 964, the governor helped streamline the process for creating offstream water storage ponds to aid in vineyard frost protection on the North Coast. At the same time, the bill by Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, protects spring stream flows for sensitive fish species. Farm Bureau supported the bill.

Some of the governor's vetoes also benefited agriculture and family businesses. He vetoed AB 1155 that would have stated that workers' compensation injury determinations not include considerations of race, religious creed, color, national origin, age, gender, marital status, sex, sexual orientation or genetic characteristics. In his veto message, Brown essentially agreed with the CFBF position that the bill would not change existing law other than to generate additional litigation.

"The courts already recognize that apportioning a disability award to any of these classifications is antithetical to our state's non-discrimination policies," the governor wrote.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

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