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March 27, 2009    California Farm Bureau Federation Friday Review

Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) amended his SB 170 that would allow Indian tribes to more easily cancel their Williamson Act contract. As amended on March 25th the bill will allow federally recognized Indian tribes to cancel their contracts only on land that is contiguous to their existing reservations. As introduced the measure would have allowed any “Native American tribe” or an undefined “tribal group” to cancel their contracts on any land that the tribe may have purchased. SB 170 would shift the burden of proof in the cancellation from the tribe to county government as the cancellation would be presumed to be in the public interest if the alternative use would be for housing, infrastructure, or a cultural center. There is no limitation on the housing so it would not have to be for tribal members and “infrastructure” is undefined.

Farm Bureau is opposed to SB 170 as is California State Association of Counties and the Regional Council of Rural Counties. There is concern that once the Williamson Act restrictions are removed the Bureau of Indian Affairs will take the lands into federal trust status and all local land use restrictions will be moot. Once in trust, tribes would also be free to ignore previous commitments. In 2004 the tribal sponsors of SB 170, the Chumash Tribe in Santa Ynez Valley, proposed the development of 500 luxury homes along with two golf courses and equestrian center on Williamson Act land adjacent to their reservation. We believe that SB 170 would open the door to the widespread loss of agricultural land as cash-rich tribes expand their reservations into agricultural preserves. SB 170 will be heard in the Senate Local Government Committee on Wednesday, April 1st.

CFBF is working on a number of labor-related bills, including:

SB 789 by Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), known as the “card check” bill, intends to amend the elections portion of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.  Existing law provides for a secret ballot election for agricultural employees to select labor organizations to represent them for collective bargaining purposes.  This bill would permit representatives from said labor organizations to approach an employee at their place of work and request them to “check a card” for their preferences, and then submit it for verification.  SB 789 will be heard at the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on Wednesday, April 1, along with a number of other labor related bills.  CFBF and other statewide agricultural organizations are gearing up in opposition to SB 789, with more information to come.

SB 287 by Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) clarifies meal and rest breaks requirements. The bill revises the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) provisions to require that the employee actually take those breaks.  The IWC, a part of the Department of Industrial Relations, adopts and amends wage orders that, among other things, specify how meal periods are required to be provided. CFBF is a cosponsor of SB 287 and has joined a broad coalition of California business groups in working for passage of the bill. 

Also, the Legislature is moving quickly on legislation to extend Unemployment Insurance Benefits.  AB 23xxx by Juan Arambula (D-Fresno) and Joe Coto (D-San Jose) and AB 29xxx by Joe Coto (D-San Jose) and Martin Garrick (R-Carlsbad) would provide benefits for an additional 20 weeks to workers who have exhausted benefits. Both bills also seek to amend state law to ease qualification for benefits for temporary and seasonal workers. CFBF and other agricultural and business groups supported the bills to facilitate California’s qualification for $840 million in federal aid for the state’s insolvent UI trust fund and to help retain qualified agricultural workers in rural areas.

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