Commentary: Legislative year ends with successes for Farm Bureau


Issue Date: October 14, 2015
By Rich Matteis
Rich Matteis

Photo/Dave Kranz

The governor's deadline for signing and vetoing bills passed at midnight Monday. With the deadline behind us, it is a good time to review and recap the legislative outcomes of importance to Farm Bureau and agriculture as a whole.

During the course of the final two weeks before his deadline, the governor's actions were consistent with Farm Bureau's wishes in a number of key areas—not the least of which was CFBF-sponsored Assembly Bill 1390 (Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville). The signing of this bill was the culmination of our nearly yearlong effort to make groundwater adjudications more efficient. Also signed was a companion measure pertaining to adjudication, Senate Bill 226 (Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills).

With AB 1390, Farm Bureau focused on making the painfully slow adjudication system more efficient than it is now. Time sinks in the current judicial process were identified and AB 1390 was drafted to deal with those in more efficient ways. SB 226 focused primarily on clarifying that the new adjudication law does not conflict with the local groundwater planning and management directed to be done under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Clearly, the passage of AB 1390 was a big victory for those wanting to obtain certainty of their groundwater rights.

In the arena of employment issues, the governor was particularly cautious when acting upon measures that would negatively impact employers and, in some cases, employees as well. The governor vetoed measures that would prohibit the use of arbitration agreements to resolve employment-related disputes, AB 465 (Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina); expand the number of parties participating in Cal/OSHA variance decisions, AB 578 (Evan Low, D-Campbell); expand the application of the Family Rights Act, SB 406 (Hannah Beth-Jackson, D-Santa Barbara); and require employers to post a bond to appeal an Agricultural Labor Relations Board order making a make-whole, back-pay or other monetary award, AB 561 (Nora Campos, D-San Jose). Earlier in the year, SB 3 (Mark Leno, D-San Francisco), which would have raised the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2017 and indexed minimum wages to inflation, was held in the Assembly and is now a two-year bill.

Labor-related legislation signed by the governor included AB 1513 (Das Williams, D-Carpinteria), which addresses confusion regarding piece-rate compensation systems, including those used in agriculture. The measure provides a "safe harbor" for most employers who may not have correctly compensated piece-rate employees for non-productive time. The governor also signed Farm Bureau-supported AB 1506 (Hernandez, D-West Covina), which provides employers an opportunity to cure technical wage-statement violations.

Although the Legislature will continue to focus on transportation funding, we have joined others in staving off new tax increases to fund highway projects so far. Farm Bureau supports consideration of all reasonable and cost-effective means to generate funding for construction and maintenance of our state highway system, but we also believe that investing in California highways, roads and bridges is actually a question of spending priorities, not lack of revenue. State spending for almost every program area has grown significantly since the 2007-09 Great Recession ended, yet transportation infrastructure has received very little and has been the lowest priority for new state funds. We will work with the Legislature and others to seek transportation funding solutions in the year ahead.

Farm Bureau was a key player in negotiating acceptable language in SB 27 (Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo), a measure relating to the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture (see story). Though the bill imposes new requirements for veterinary prescriptions for feed directives for medically important antibiotics, it still allows over-the-counter sales at retailers with a veterinarian's order. Burdensome tracking and monitoring requirements were amended out of the bill at the request of Farm Bureau and other stakeholders.

In addition to AB 1390, another CFBF-sponsored measure was signed into law by the governor. AB 732 (Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove) amends the Food and Agricultural Code to allow owners of cattle to add a business partner owning a minority share without needing to have the herd of cattle inspected, so long as all owners of the cattle certify that the controlling interest of the cattle is not changing. The intent of the bill is to reduce costs of transferring family dairies and cattle ranches to the next generation. Another bill amending the Food and Agricultural Code will reduce licensing costs for seed dealers while granting new protection for seed producers under the California Seed Law and ensures that seed production services are also covered.

The governor did veto a measure CFBF co-sponsored, AB 515 (Susan Eggman, D-Stockton), which would have broadened and extended the state income tax credit for donations of food to food banks. The governor used the same veto message for all nine tax-credit proposals that the Legislature sent to him, noting that despite strong revenue performance during the past few years, the state budget remains precariously balanced due to unexpected costs and the provision of new services.

We were also disappointed that the governor vetoed AB 429 (Brian Dahle, R-Bieber), which would have required state agencies to give preference to timber harvested following the requirements of California forest practice rules, so long as price and quality are equal. While direct state purchasing of lumber is fairly small relative to all lumber purchased in the state, it is important for the state to lead in its efforts to support timber producers who comply with California's strict forest practice standards.

Environmental bills are always the focus of attention in any legislative session. SB 32 (Pavley, D-Agoura Hills) would have extended the state's mandatory greenhouse gas emissions-reduction program, but was held on the Assembly floor; Farm Bureau was among those opposed to the measure. SB 350 (Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles), which requires increased energy efficiency of 50 percent for buildings in California and a 50 percent increase in the state Renewable Portfolio Standard, was signed into law, but only after amendments were taken to eliminate provisions that would have required a 50 percent reduction in fuel use for vehicles. Also on the air-emissions front, Farm Bureau and other stakeholders came to agreement with Assembly Member Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, whose AB 1496 could have led to new methane regulations but now requires an Air Resources Board study of the matter.

All in all, we at Farm Bureau believe it was a productive year for us in the state Legislature. We will be back next year, the second year of the session, to work on unfinished business and to take on an entirely new body of work as legislators introduce new measures beginning in a few months.

We want to thank all of our Farm Team members who contacted legislators this year when the calls for action went out, and the many county Farm Bureaus that also reached out to their legislators on key issues and signed coalition letters when requested. Your collective, grassroots efforts made a resounding impact on many of the success stories above. We look forward to working with you again in 2016, as the Legislature returns.

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

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