State legislative session ends in flurry of votes


Issue Date: September 16, 2015
By Kate Campbell

State legislators worked into the night last week voting on a slew of bills that will have an impact on California agriculture. The governor now has until Oct. 11 to sign, veto or allow bills to become law.

"The session resulted in passage of a number of bills that will benefit farmers and ranchers," said California Farm Bureau Federation Administrator Rich Matteis. "Some bills will help agriculture, and business generally, by not winning approval."

Two environmental bills—Senate Bills 32 and 350—received mixed outcomes last week, said Cynthia Cory, CFBF environmental affairs director. SB 32 (Pavley, D-Agoura Hills), would have mandated further greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The bill did not have enough votes to pass and will be considered next year.

SB 350 initially required a 50 percent reduction in the use of petroleum-based fuels, a 50 percent increase in renewable fuels (wind, solar) for power generation and a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by 2030.

Agriculture and business groups opposed the petroleum ruling and it was dropped from the bill to help ensure passage. The amended bill is on its way to the governor's desk.

"We were very concerned about the petroleum component in the bill and worked with a large number of business groups to get the requirement removed," Cory said. "It appears a strong group of moderate legislators was able to get that part of the bill removed."

In the waning hours of the session, she noted that SB 1288 was gutted and amended to include a provision that added two environmental justice appointments to the state Air Resources Control Board, which will change the composition of the body regulating California air quality.

A bill sponsored by CFBF to streamline groundwater adjudication—Assembly Bill 1390 (Alejo, D-Salinas)—passed the Assembly floor, on concurrence, with a bipartisan vote of 72 to 0. The State Senate also approved this bill with unanimous bipartisan support, a 40 to 0 vote.

AB 1390 and its companion bill, SB 226 (Pavley D-Agoura Hills), will increase water adjudication efficiency.

AB 1390 clarifies court procedures that apply to comprehensive groundwater adjudications to reduce the time the process takes. Specific provisions of the bill encourage early settlement and help avoid undue disruption of local groundwater planning.

The use of medically important antibiotics in livestock will be further regulated if SB 27 (Hill, D-San Mateo) is signed, said Noelle Cremers, CFBF natural resources director. The bill requires veterinary prescriptions or feed directives for purchasing all medically important antibiotics, but would allow those products to continue to be sold by feed stores and other retailers.

Originally the bill would have required an extensive tracking and reporting system of all antibiotic use in livestock, she said, and there was consideration of fees to pay for the programs. Farm Bureau worked to remove these provisions, allowing a change of position to neutral.

Donations of fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks will receive broader and extended state income tax credit treatment with passage and signing of Farm Bureau co-sponsored Assembly Bill 515 (Eggman, D-Stockton). The California Association of Food Banks joined CFBF as a co-sponsor.

"Current law allows a 10 percent income tax credit on the inventory costs of fresh fruits and vegetables only," said John Gamper, CFBF taxation and land use director.

Under AB 515, the credit would increase to 15 percent of the wholesale value of the commodity donated and expand the list of qualified items to include dried fruit, nuts, dairy products, beef, fish, poultry products, including eggs, as well as dried beans, rice and specified processed products such as vegetable oil, olive oil, soup, bread, pasta, canned meat and seafood.

"With state and federal policy emphasis on increasing fresh food in our diets, the bill is a real benefit to food banks and farmers," Gamper said.

Farm Bureau was successful in amending AB 514 (Williams, D-Santa Barbara), which included dramatically increased fines for removing brush, going from $100 per violation to as high as $5,000 or three times the permit fee, whichever is higher. Fines for subsequent violations could go as high as $15,000.

"I understand that a single event triggered this legislation," Gamper said. "The bill would impose fines or penalties for presumed violations of a building and safety ordinance, brush removal ordinance, grading ordinance or a zoning ordinance."

He said the bill's author accepted amendments that placed "important limits" on the new administrative fine authority included in the bill, which allowed CFBF to remove its opposition and take a neutral position on the legislation.

Bills addressing labor issues also received mixed results during the legislative session that ended last week, said Bryan Little, CFBF employment policy director and CEO of Farm Employers Labor Service.

For example, he commented that a bill to increase California's minimum wage "before we even have had a chance to evaluate the last minimum wage increase" and another bill related to the California Family Rights Act , which was too expansive.

"That legislation, SB 406 (Jackson-D-Santa Barbara) would have changed the threshold of the number of employees covered under the CFRA to 50 or more employees," Little said. "But they left in an expansion of relatives an employee could take family care for. That will create headaches for employers.

AB 465 (R. Hernandez, D-West Covina) which passed last week, prohibits employers from having job applicants sign a pre-employment agreement to allow all employment related disputes to be settled by an arbitrator.

As such, AB 465 will serve only to drive up litigation costs, increasing individual claims, representative actions and class action lawsuits against California employers.

"A change I'm noting in the Legislature with this session is a bit more willingness to listen to concerns of employers than there has been in past years," Little said. "I attribute that to the increased presence of moderate democrats."

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

Updated 9/16/15 to correct paragraphs referring to AB 514.

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