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May 1, 2009 California Farm Bureau Federation Friday Review

The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed SB 448 (Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica) out of committee.  This bill would create a California Safe Harbor Agreement program providing landowners, who choose to participate, incidental take coverage for species listed under the California Endangered Species Act when they expand or improve habitat for these species.  Farm Bureau is supportive of the concept of voluntary Safe Harbor Agreements; however SB 448 does not currently include all of the landowner protections necessary for a successful program.  Farm Bureau is working with the author and sponsor, Defenders of Wildlife, to achieve the necessary amendments to allow us to fully support SB 448.  The bill now moves to the Senate Floor.

The Senate Public Safety Committee passed SB 135 (Dean Florez, D-Shafter) out of committee on a party line vote.  This bill would ban the practice of docking the tails of cattle.  The Humane Society of the United States is the sponsor of the bill. Farm Bureau has not taken a position on SB 135, but is working to obtain amendments that would allow cattle owners to dock tails in emergency situations.  Despite Chairman Leno’s agreement with the proposed amendments, Senator Florez was unwilling to accept them.  

The Assembly Natural Resources Committee heard AB 1066 (Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia) which would extend the length of Timber Harvest Plans (THP) from three years to 10 years.  After putting the bill over last week, Assembly Member Skinner, the Committee Chair, agreed to support the bill if it was amended to extend the length of THPs to five years with the possibility of two one year extensions and the bill passed out of committee 7 – 0.  This new time extension would also apply to existing THPs.  Farm Bureau supports AB 1066 because of the improved ability it would provide for timber harvests to better match the market.  The bill will be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.   

The Senate Health Committee passed SB 173 (Dean Florez, D-Shafter) out of committee on a 7 – 3 party line vote.  This bill was amended the day before the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee hearing last week to essentially require Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans and product testing for growers, food processors, and food facilities.  It also provides the Department of Public Health (DPH) with the authority to issue mandatory recalls when it believes foods may contain substances or pathogens injurious to human health.  The bill does not technically require HACCP plans and testing, however if a grower, food processor, or food facility is the subject of a mandatory recall then he or she is liable for triple the damages awarded to any plaintiffs, inspections by DPH for at least eight days per month for at least 12 months, and DPH has the authority to close the facility for up to six months.  With these strong provisions, it seems likely that individuals would choose to create HACCP plans and complete product testing.  The bill also requires anyone who is testing products to report any positives within one hour of receiving notice of the positive.  Farm Bureau has not taken a formal position, however staff expressed concerns with the bill.  SB 173 will be heard next by the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

The Senate Education Committee passed SB 416 (Dean Florez, D-Shafter) out of committee 5 – 2 after extensive discussion by committee members.  This bill would ban the use of antibiotics for “nontherapeutic” or preventative uses in livestock.  Livestock producers take great care when selecting veterinary treatments for the animals in their care and this bill would handicap both veterinarians and livestock producers in their efforts to maintain animal health and provide a safe food supply to consumers.  Originally the bill also required that schools only serve meat and poultry products that have not been treated with antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention purposes.  However, Senator Florez was forced to take amendments that would require schools to try to purchase meat products not treated with antibiotics and to document and report their purchases to the Superintendent of Public Instruction if they are not able to obtain those products.  Despite these amendments, Senators Alquist, Huff, Liu, and Padilla all expressed concerns with the bill.  Senators Alquist and Liu only agreed to vote for the measure to allow further discussions to occur. Senator Padilla chose not to vote based on the significant concerns he has with the bill.  Farm Bureau remains opposed to SB 416 as it moves to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee.     

SB7 (Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa) was heard in the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee this week. Farm Bureau supports the legislation, which addresses net metering for solar and wind customer generation. It requires the utility provider to roll over excess energy credits not used by the customer-generator beyond the 12-month true-up cycle for an additional two 12-month cycles. In addition it requires the CPUC, as part of an upcoming report, to consider if and whether a customer should be paid for excess energy credits not used from one year to the next. Senator Wiggins and her staff worked very hard to develop language satisfactory to the Committee, which approved it on an 11-0 vote.

The bill, AB 1014 (Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy), that would authorize the DMV to issue a class A restricted driver’s license to driver’s of vehicles in the production, harvesting and transportation of silage if they are a farmer, employee of a farmer or a contracted employee of a farmer is now a two-year bill.  After some discussion and questions involving several of the Assembly Transportation Committee members the author, sponsor and CHP agreed to pull the bill in order to continue working on the best solution to address the enormous challenges for the silage industry due to the difficulty in hiring worker’s that possess a commercial driver’s license.  Farm Bureau is in support and will continue to work with the Assembly Member, the sponsors and all parties involved to address the industry’s specific issues.

AB 1431, (Jerry Hill, D-South San Francisco), was pulled from committee and is now a two-year. This measure would require the Port of Oakland and anyone involved in goods movement at the port to establish emission reduction plans as stringent as those in place for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  The California Farm Bureau, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Cal Trade Association, Nisei Farmer’s League, Cotton Ginners and Growers Association and a host of others were strongly opposed to AB 1431 and generated hundreds of letters in opposition. Thank you to all of you that responded to the Farm Team Alert to express your opposition.

Legislation that allows the implementation of clean 21st century technologies for the conversion of carbonaceous wastes to advanced biofuels, electricity and other biobased products was approved unanimously by the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee AB 222 (Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia and Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco) will be of immense benefit to California agriculture by providing a practical alternative to the open-field burning of agricultural byproducts and offer an environmentally sensitive alternative to the agricultural land-spreading of sewage sludge. It could also help enable the state to meet its new Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) mandate that requires substituting 10% of fuel with non-petroleum sources such as biofuels. AB 222 will provide new revenue sources for the agricultural industry if the feedstocks to comply with the LCFS are grown and processed within the state without in any way reducing or impacting the state’s output of agricultural food resources.  Farm Bureau supports. 

A measure to override local zoning in order to facilitate the construction of farmworker housing was approved by the Assembly Agriculture Committee. AB 494 (Anna Caballero, D-Salinas) expands the provisions of a controversial 1999 law that allows up to five acres of Williamson Act land to be sold or leased to a non-profit, a city, a county, a housing authority, or a state agency for the development of farmworker housing. This measure would expand those provisions to all agricultural and open space zones prohibiting jurisdictions from enforcing or imposing any local ordinance or regulation or development standard that requires a minimum parcel size on subdivisions, such as percolation standards for septic systems.

Current law requires that the contracted land be in a city or within a sphere of influence of a city or unincorporated territory and it has to be contiguous to a property that is zoned for commercial, industrial, or residential use. AB 494 would eliminate the contiguity requirement, if the housing has access to drinking water and sanitary sewer services.

Farm Bureau is committed to continuing to work with the author, who has been a good friend of agriculture in the past. We understand and are equally passionate about providing more and better housing opportunities for agricultural employees, but we don’t want to override local control of land use planning. The bill, as amended on April 23rd would also allow the subdivision of up to five acres of land subject to an agricultural conservation easement.

The roll call on AB 494 was as follows: “AYE”--Galgiani, Fuller, Bonnie Lowenthal, Ma, and Mendoza; “NO”--Tom Berryhill, and Conway; “NOT VOTING”--Yamada.

There are a number of bills moving through the first policy committees in both houses to address the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and sustainability that continue to be “works in progress.” Farm Bureau is actively engaged with the authors and other agricultural organizations on these measures.

AB 49 (Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles & Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael) would require a 20 percent reduction in urban per capita water use by 2020 and require agricultural water suppliers to implement, by July 31, 2012 certain best management practices for water use efficiency. The measure was heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week and put on suspense. Farm Bureau and a large, broad coalition of agricultural organizations and agricultural water interests have drafted their own agricultural water use efficiency language and thus oppose AB 49.

SB 460 (Lois Wolk, D-Davis), co-sponsored by the Solano Water Agency and the Association of California Water Agencies, addresses urban commercial, industrial and institutional water conservation, and agricultural water use efficiency. Farm Bureau has organized a diverse agriculture coalition that has since drafted proposed amendment language that will address agriculture water use efficiency options acceptable to agriculture. The measure was heard and amended in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee this week. The bill is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Farm Bureau’s position is pending while encouraging discussions with the author and sponsors continue.

SB 261 (Bob Dutton, R-Inland Empire & Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego) sponsored by the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority is the third measure introduced this session to address urban water conservation. The measure was heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee this week. The bill is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Farm Bureau has not yet taken a position on SB 261 in its current form, but continues to monitor it closely for amendments that may incorporate agricultural water use.

SB 122 (Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica) would require additional monitoring of wells and authorizes the Department of Water Resources to recover costs from the local groundwater users where they perform the monitoring functions. A similar bill (SB 178) failed in 2007. The measure was heard and passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee along party lines this week. Farm Bureau opposes the bill, scheduled to be heard May 11 in the Senate Appropriations Committee.                              

SB 413 (Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego) would require waste dischargers to pay an annual fee to update basin plans. The fee paid to the State Water Resources Control Board would recover costs incurred by the Board in the preparation of water quality control plans also known as basin plans. The basin plans were developed in 1975 to qualify California for federal funding, to update water treatment facilities. Through bond funding, the state paid for contractors to develop the basin plans, and they have not been adequately funded since. Farm Bureau has taken the lead to arrange discussions between the author and other farm and business organizations about possible amendments that could facilitate funding of basin plan amendments without a mandatory fee. The measure was heard and amended in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee this week. The bill is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Farm Bureau’s position is pending while discussions with the author continue.

SB 681 (Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica) would require reporting all surface water diversions with substantial penalties for violators. The measure also creates an annual fee for all diversions, including pre-1914 water rights, increases civil liability amounts to $1,000 per day and $1,000 per acre-foot, allows the State Water Resources Control Board to initiate adjudications, and requires submittal of information under penalty of perjury, with a $25,000 fine for false reporting. The measure was heard and passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee this week. Farm Bureau is opposed to SB 681, which is scheduled to be heard May 11 in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 789, (Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento), a bill to amend the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, was passed by the Senate.  Referred to as the “card check” bill, SB 789, is opposed by a broad agriculture coalition including Farm Bureau.  It will be heard next in the Assembly Labor and Industry Committee.

AB 1288 (Paul Fong, D-Mountain View) would prohibit counties, cities or other local governmental units from requiring use of the seriously flawed federal E-Verify program as a condition of obtaining a contract or business license or settling any claim of unlawful activity.  The bill now goes to the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee.  Farm Bureau supports AB 1288. 

SB 187 (John Benoit, R-Riverside) would allow employers to adopt flexible work schedules without incurring overtime obligations.  SB 187 is supported by Farm Bureau, but was pulled from consideration by the author at the request of Chairman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Walnut Creek).

SB 287 (Ron Calderon, D-Montebello) would clarify that employers must offer but are not required to force employees to take meal and rest periods.  Farm Bureau is a cosponsor of SB 287, which was also pulled from consideration by its author at the request of Chairman DeSaulnier.  Committee members strongly suggested a negotiated resolution of meal and rest period issues, and requested labor and industry to try to negotiate a resolution.

AB 298 (Van Tran, R-Costa Mesa) would have permitted parties being sued to appeal the certification of a class in a class-action lawsuit.  Assembly Judiciary Committee killed Tran’s bill on a 3-7 party-line vote.  Under present law, the complainant in a civil lawsuit may appeal denial of class certification, but the respondent may not appeal the certification against it.  Tran’s bill would have leveled the playing field for respondents, including employers, and was naturally opposed strongly by the attorneys.     

SB 356 (Rod Wright, D-Inglewood) would require regulatory agencies to actively seek input from small businesses and to affirmatively consider less burdensome alternatives to regulatory actions.  The measure is supported by Farm Bureau and was passed by Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development on a 6-2 vote.  The Committee referred the bill to Senate Appropriations.

Also being followed by Farm Bureau is AB 854 (Juan Arambula, D-Fresno) which would require a Farm Labor Contractor to certify there are no court judgments or Labor Commissioner orders related to unpaid wages against him or her when seeking renewal of his or her state FLC license.  Due to its possible fiscal impact, the bill moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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