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MARCH 2, 2007
California Farm Bureau Friday Review as we begin the 2007-2008 Legislative Session.  Attached are some recently introduced bills that Farm Bureau has been tracking. 
SB 114-Tax relief for freeze victims
SB 148-Tax exemption for freeze victims
SB 116-Worker exemption for freeze related unemployment
AB 680-Rice straw income tax credit extension
SB 562-Williamson Act clarifications
SB 200 and SB 201-Food safety/Leafy greens
AB 844-Metal theft
SB 63 and AB 1100-Meat and milk from cloned animals
AB 541-Biotech crops

The Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee approved two bills that would provide significant tax relief to farmers and ranchers impacted by the killing January freeze. SB 114 (Dean Florez, D-Shafter) would amend the Personal Income and Corporation Tax laws to allow taxpayers in 18 designated counties to take their freeze related losses against the proceeding year’s income and, if necessary, to carry forward those net operating losses for a period of five years. The bill also provides for state reimbursement of property tax losses in those 18 counties when taxpayers apply for reassessment of property damaged or destroyed by the freezing conditions commencing on January 11, 2007. Finally, the bill prohibits county assessors from disqualifying an otherwise qualified residence for a homeowners’ exemption simply because the dwelling was damaged, destroyed, or temporarily uninhabitable as a result of the January freeze.

SB 148 (Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta) would renew the property tax exemption period for fruit and nut bearing trees that were severely damaged by the freeze. The extension of the property tax free period would only apply to trees that require pruning to the trunk or bud union to establish new shoots as replacements for the damaged tree. The re-grafted trees would essentially be considered a newly planted orchard. It should be noted that the land on which the orchard is planted remains subject to taxation; it is only the living improvement that would be temporarily exempt.

SB 116 (Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria) would allow workers to supplement their unemployment benefits at a reasonable level without losing their qualification. Farm Bureau believes this measure will give farm workers who have lost their jobs due to the recent devastating freeze much needed flexibility to get through the next few months and help them stay in the communities where they work. SB 116 passed out the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee unanimously and now awaits a hearing in Senate Appropriations.

With time running out on the rice straw income tax credit, Assembly Member Lois Wolk (D-Davis) is authoring AB 680 to extend the sunset date to 2013. Beginning on January 1, 1997 end-users of rice straw involved in biomass energy, alternative construction materials, erosion prevention, or animal feed or bedding were allowed a $15.00 per ton tax credit for the purchase of rice straw grown in California. The tax credit was capped at $400,000 each year, and intended to encourage the uses of the straw that would otherwise be destroyed by burning. The program is administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and by all accounts has fallen woefully short of the promised diversion of up to 50 percent of the state’s residual rice straw. The ceiling placed on the tax credit has limited the utilization rate to one to two percent of rice straw annually. Farm Bureau is working with our rice growers and CDFA on strategies to expand the program.

Assembly Member Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) has introduced a Farm Bureau-sponsored measure to clarify that land enrolled in the Williamson Act can be used to produce dedicated crops for bio-fuels or participate in the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The bill, SB 562, will first be heard in the Senate Local Government Committee after March 22nd.

Senator Florez (D-Shafter) recently introduced a suite of bills to address food safety in the leafy green industry. SB 200 creates a “produce inspector” at the State Department of Public Health and provides the inspector with recall and quarantine authorities over produce similar to those currently provided to the State Veterinarian for livestock, meat, and milk. This bill also requires licensing of all leafy green growers. SB 201 puts best management practices for leafy green vegetables in statute. The best management practices are similar, but not exactly the same as what is being proposed by the recently created leafy green handler board as part of the leafy green marketing agreement. SB 202 requires a trace back system for leafy green vegetables. CFBF has not taken a formal position on any of these bills, but has concerns with all of them and will continue to thoroughly review their implications.

Assembly Member Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) introduced AB 844 at CFBF’s request to address the recent increase in metal theft throughout California. The bill aims to change requirements of scrap metal recyclers who purchase these metal products. CFBF is confident that by reducing the market for stolen metal, theft of this material will be reduced. In addition to AB 844, Senator Maldonado and Assembly Member Parra have also introduced legislation to address metal theft. CFBF is working with all parties interested in the issue to create a solution that will ultimately reduce the rate of metal theft.

SB 63 (Carol Migden, D-San Francisco) and AB 1100 (Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City) would require meat and milk from cloned animals or their progeny to be labeled. CFBF has clear policy stating that “agricultural goods that are produced using biotechnology techniques or products should not be required to provide this information on the product label, unless a food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart, or where a specified constituent is altered (e.g., nutritionally or when affecting allergenicity).” Cloned animals are by definition identical to the “parent” animal and, therefore, should not be required to be labeled. CFBF recognizes that the industry needs to educate consumers about cloning and its role in the livestock industry before marketing these products, but labeling would not provide the education necessary. It is for these reasons that CFBF is opposing these bills.

New Assembly Member, Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) has introduced wide reaching legislation to impose new regulations on the biotech crops in California. The Genetic Engineering Policy Project, a newly formed advocacy group, is the sponsor of AB 541. Huffman had a press conference last week and announced the four provisions of the bill as such: 1) Holds a seed manufacturer liable if there is unintended presence of a bioengineered source found on a person’s property that had no contract with the manufacturer; (2) Prevents a grower from being liable if they unknowingly plant or grow bioengineered crops; (3) Establishes a crop registration process for anyone growing biotech crops; (4) Prohibits the open-field cultivation of medicine-producing crops.

The Assembly Agriculture Committee will hold an informational hearing on AB 541 and relevant biotech issues in the next couple weeks. While CFBF is willing to work with the sponsors on AB 541, we are opposed to the bill in its current form.

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