Review of California Legislative Ag changes

The California Legislature concluded its 2013 legislative activity last week, sending a number of bills to the governor and putting the skids on others that may reappear in the coming year.

Gov. Brown has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature, which is now in recess and will return in early January to begin the second half of the two-year session.

Although the Legislature dealt some setbacks to agricultural advocates, there were many successes for farmers and ranchers, said Rich Matteis, California Farm Bureau Federation administrator.

Notable victories included bills relating to the California Endangered Species Act, community-supported agriculture and metal theft.

Senate Bill 749 by Lois Wolk, D-Davis, will extend the sunset for a provision in state endangered-species law that allows accidental take for ongoing and routine farming and ranching activities. The bill—co-sponsored by CFBF, the California Cattlemen’s Association and the California Waterfowl Association—earned unanimous support in both houses of the Legislature.

Another CFBF-supported bill that received unanimous support was Assembly Bill 224 by Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park. It defines different types of community-supported agriculture programs and creates a new system for overseeing CSAs in California to provide a system of compliance with state and local food safety requirements.

Two bills aimed at strengthening law enforcement’s ability to combat rampant metal theft have been sent to the governor.

AB 909 by Adam Gray, D-Merced, would create a Metal Theft Task Force program at the Department of Justice, which, when funded, would provide grants to local law enforcement and district attorneys to focus on metal theft and recycling crimes. The bill was sponsored by CFBF.

A second metal theft bill, SB 485 by Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, would require junk dealers and recyclers to provide documentation to prove they are operating legally prior to obtaining a weighmaster certificate from a county agricultural commissioner and sealer.

“There is a proliferation of illegal recyclers and this bill will help stop those activities,” said Noelle Cremers, CFBF director of natural resources and commodities.

A bill that calls for a substantial hike in the California minimum wage, AB 10 by Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, has gone to the governor, who has indicated he will sign it. Amendments to AB 10 changed it from gradually increasing minimum wages in four increments to $10 per hour by Jan. 1, 2018, to instead increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour on July 1, 2014, and to $10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016.

Farm Bureau and a broad coalition of business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Grocers Association, opposed the bill.

Another bill that Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations opposed was SB 25 by Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, which would have expanded mandatory mediation in agricultural labor bargaining from initial contract negotiations where the parties cannot reach agreement to all future negotiations, even if decades had passed since an initial vote certification. The bill was not taken up for a final vote on the Senate floor.

AB 976 by Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, which would have granted the California Coastal Commission the authority to impose administrative fines, encountered strong opposition from CFBF, the California Cattlemen’s Association and other business groups. The bill, which mandated the use of daily fines that could be imposed at a rate of up to $11,250 per day, stalled and will not be considered again until next year, said John Gamper, CFBF director of land use and taxation.

CFBF and other agricultural groups succeeded in curtailing language in SB 726 by Richard Lara, D-Bell Gardens, that would have allowed the California Air Resources Board unfettered authority to require reductions of black carbon (soot) on all major business sectors, including agriculture.

An academic review presented to ARB in July 2013 stated that the state’s air quality rules should be the model for the world in how to obtain black carbon reductions, said Cynthia Cory, CFBF director of environmental affairs.

“When businesses cannot afford to comply with regulations on the books like the truck rule at the same time we are lauded for being the best in the world at reducing black carbon, giving ARB more authority for further diesel regulations makes absolutely no sense,” Cory said.

The Legislature approved AB 8 by Henry Perea, D-Fresno, and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which continues authority through 2023 to fund several air quality improvement programs. They include the Carl Moyer Program, widely used by the agricultural community, and the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Programs.

Two timber-related bills that have Farm Bureau support have been sent to the governor. AB 904 by Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, would create a Working Forest Management Plan, which allows timber landowners with up to 15,000 acres the ability to create a long-term management plan. In return for giving up their right to use even-aged timber management, landowners would be able to harvest without going through the timber harvest permitting process.

AB 744 by Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and Gordon, would create a pilot program in the Sierra Nevada and Modoc, Siskiyou and Trinity counties, allowing thinning for fire prevention of trees up to 24 inches in high-fire-risk areas.

“While we would have preferred for the proposal to be statewide, we believe that this is a good first step and will continue to advocate for its expansion statewide,” Matteis said.

Efforts in legislative committees to put a new, trimmed-down water bond on the statewide ballot next year failed to materialize, although efforts are expected to be renewed in January. A joint informational hearing by the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Environmental Quality regarding the water bond is scheduled for Sept. 24.

Danny Merkley, CFBF director of water resources, said Farm Bureau will continue to monitor the water bond proposals and emphasized that funding for new water storage must be part of any bond package.

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at [email protected].)

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