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February 26, 2010

 California Farm Bureau Federation Friday Review, legislative and governmental update

At CFBF’s request, Senator Wolk (D-Linden) introduced SB 1303 to continue the accidental take allowance under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  Current law allows accidental take of species listed under CESA during routine and ongoing agricultural activities.  This provision of law is set to expire January 1, 2011 and SB 1303 will allow that provision to continue.  CFBF is working with the California Cattlemen’s Association on the bill. 


Assembly Member Ma (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 1960 last week, which would require state agencies to purchase California grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables rather than imported products as long as California grown products are the same or lower price.  AB 1960 is similar to a bill passed by the legislature in 2001, but was vetoed by then Governor Davis.  CFBF supports AB 1960 and is hopeful that the Governor can be convinced of the value of supporting California farmers by requiring state agencies to purchase California farm products.  


Senator Florez (D-Shafter) introduced another high profile bill last week creating a registry for people convicted of animal cruelty similar to California’s sex offender registry.  SB 1277 (Florez) creates a tax on pet food to fund the costs of creating and administering this registry.  This bill will add significant costs to the state and local law enforcement agencies due to the increased enforcement and prison time required by the bill.  Given the current budget situation the state and local governments are currently facing, the bill has significant hurdles to overcome if it is to gain passage.  CFBF is opposing the bill due to the taxes it would impose on our members who use dogs on their farms and ranches.  


Assembly Member Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) has introduced AB 2530 that would earmark Williamson Act cancellation penalty fees to help fund the Open Space Subvention program. The Open Space Subvention program is the statutory name for the state’s payments to counties to offset their foregone property tax revenue due to their participation in the Williamson Act. Assm. Nielsen has been perhaps the strongest and most effective advocate for continued funding of the subvention program and Farm Bureau will give his proposal the serious consideration that it deserves, however, it would appear to provide an inappropriate incentive to county boards of supervisors to immediately cancel contracts. This would be contrary to the California Supreme Court holding that cancellations of contracts should only be allowed in extraordinary circumstances and that nonrenewal is the proper way to exit a contact. The court reasoned that because the California Constitution requires land to be “enforceably restricted” in order to receive preferential property tax treatment, immediate cancellation should be reserved for very special circumstance and not just because the land is ripe for development.


SB 1474 (“Card Check”) - Senator and President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has reintroduced his “card check” measure, SB 1474, which would deprive farmworkers of their right to decide if they want union representation by secret ballot elections exclusively. Instead, farmworker

unions could be certified as bargaining representatives via the simple signing of petitions by farmworkers along with representation cards. The United Farm Workers union has long sought various versions of card check.  In the last two years, UFW has tried to use public concern about alleged grower abuses of farm workers to push for card check.  Most notably, UFW has claimed that alleged failures to provide shade and drinking water to protect workers against heat illness are an indication of the need for card check to ease unionization of farm workers, supposedly allowing them to better protect themselves.  Organizations representing farmers have countered that card check legislation is more about enhancing the waning power of the UFW than protecting farm workers.  In spite of a very favorable legal climate in California created by the Agricultural Labor Relations Act and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, UFW has not been notably successful in unionizing farm workers, and UFW has relatively few contracts in force, representing a tiny fraction of the farm workforce in California.  It is also worth noting that Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed various forms of card check three times.


SB 1121 (Overtime for Ag Workers) - The other measure is SB 1121 by Senator Dean Florez (D- Shafter), which would treat agricultural workers the same as other workers with regard to the payment of overtime. Currently, agricultural workers may work 10 hours per day and 6 days a week before overtime pay is required. Under this measure, those limits would be reduced to 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week for regular pay. Hours worked over those thresholds would require payment of overtime.  SB 1121 would also apply California Labor Code requirements for a weekly day of rest to agriculture for the first time, and would repeal ag-specific provisions in Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order #14 concerning meal and rest periods. Because of the highly time-sensitive nature of many planting, cultivation, and harvest activities related to highly perishable commodities, agriculture requires alternate overtime rules. Many other states California competes with observe Federal requirements, which exempt agriculture from overtime requirements entirely.


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