Dec. 8, 2010
Almond Board
California Legislative Report: Update on Issues Affecting California's Almond Industry

State Legislature

  • Capitol welcomes new, returning legislators- - The California Legislature on Dec., 6, 2010 sworn in new and returning legislators. Several bills were introduced. Lawmakers are not expected to debate bills until January, though both houses can convene at any time to consider budget-related matters in special session. How to deal with a projected $25.4 billion deficit will be the key issue confronting lawmakers. Democrats continue to dominate the Legislature, 52-28 in the Assembly and 24-14 in the Senate, which has two seats up for grabs in special elections and a third certain to be vacated next month by Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, who was elected to the Board of Equalization.

  • Legislative committee chairmanships begin to be filled - - The state Senate leader, Darrell Steinberg, began naming committee chairmanships as the Legislature reconvened. Steinberg replaced moderate Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino as chair of the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, naming Sen. Curren Price Jr. (D-Inglewood) to head the panel. The president pro tem also replaced Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) as chair of the senate Health Committee, giving the leadership job to Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), an optometrist. Agricultural interests were stilll waiting to hear who would be named to head the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee. Sen. Dean Florez is termed out. The vice-chair is Republican Bill Emerson of Riverside, while the other two remaining panel members are Democrats Loni Hancock, Oakland, and Los Wolk, Davis.
    On the Assembly side, current Assembly Ag Committee Chair Cathleen Galgiani won re-election to her seat, as did ranking Republican member Connie Conway of Tulare, who is also the Republican Assembly leader. It was anticipated that Assembly Speaker John Perez would be making his committee appointments in the near future.

State Budget

  • Gov. Schwarzenegger calls for deep budget cuts, special session - - Schwarzenegger on Dec. 6, 2010 proposed $7.4 billion in spending cuts, including eliminating the state's welfare program. The Governor called for deep cutbacks in state spending in a special legislative session, Whether the Assembly plans to go along with the governor's special session request or the Senate's hearings is unknown. Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, closed Monday's session by telling lawmakers he would see them in January. "Anything can happen," Perea said, "but we're expecting to be back in January." That is when Schwarzenegger will leave office and Democrat Jerry Brown, who was elected governor last month, will take over. Legislators will then confront an estimated $25.4 billion deficit over the next year and a half, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

Federal legislation

  • Senate passes food safety bill - - The Senate passed the long-stalled bill to modernize food safety programs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 30, 2010 by a vote of 73-25.  The bill would increase FDA inspections and reporting requirements for food safety on all foods that come under FDA, which means almost all foods except the meat, poultry and egg products that are inspected by the Agriculture Department.

Water

  • California issues 25 percent water-delivery forecast - - California water officials on Monday announced a 25 percent delivery forecast for customers who depend on the State Water Project. The projection is preliminary, and usually increases over the course of winter. It primarily concerns urban areas in the south San Francisco Bay Area and in the Los Angeles-San Diego metro areas, which depend on the State Water Project for a significant share of their supplies. The allocation announcement is the first of the year and reflects a conservative approach that is customary for the Department of Water Resources. Even so, it is far better than last year's initial forecast, which was just 5 percent

     

  • No irrigated lands fee increase in 2011 - - The Coalition for Urban Rural Environmental Stewardship (CURES) reports in its current newsletter that a proposed fee increase from 12 to 49 cents an acre for those participating in watershed coalitions was pulled at the last minute from the final state budget signed by Governor Schwarzenegger on Oct. 8. Active lobbying by agricultural interests helped reverse an effort by state lawmakers to remove general fund support in fiscal year 2011 for irrigated lands programs overseen by the State Water Resources Control Board.  General funds from the state budget plus the current 12 cents an acre paid by landowners are combined to pay for staff at all Regional Boards in the state with irrigated lands programs.  Increasing the fee to 49 cents per acre would have shifted the full costs of running the programs to landowners. The issue of fee increases will likely resurface again once the Central Valley Regional Water Board adopts its new Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program.  Adding groundwater to the new program will increase staff workloads and likely result in an attempt to hire more state workers.  Staffing requests for fiscal year 2012 are made when each board determines upcoming year workloads and expenses.  Such a proposal might be expected in spring 2011 when a draft budget is usually released.

State Legislative Items

 Sept. 30, 2010  was the last day for the Governor to sign or veto pending legislation.  Here  is the current status on legislation of interest to the California almond industry.

  • Recently enacted pesticide laws - - The California Department of Pesticide regulation offers a website page providing links to legislation passed and signed during the 2010 legislative session that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2011. Click here to view the bills.

  • CA Apiary Commission  approved - - Gov. Schwarzenegger has signed  AB 1912 by Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) creating the California Apiary Research Commission. The body will operate on an estimated $2 million from a $1-per-colony assessment on beekeepers, according to legislative analysis. The California State Beekeepers Association supports the plan.

  • Card check bill vetoed- - Card check legislation , SB 1474 by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), has been vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. The bill  would have permitted farm workers to form a union by submitting a petition to the Agriculture Labor Relations Board accompanied by representation cards signed by a majority of the bargaining unit. The legislation was sponsored by the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). In his veto message, the Governor said its provisions would “tip the scale in favor of unions” when deciding whether to set aside the results of a union election.

  • Williamson Act funding bill signed- - AB 2530 by Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber),  a bill that would restore funding for the Williamson Act, was signed by the Governor. The bill comes from California Farm Bureau’s proposal to shorten Williamson Act contracts to 9 from 10 years or 18 years from 20  depending on the current term of the contract in exchange for the landowners forfeit of  10% of their tax benefit. AB 2530 allows counties to voluntarily implement new land preservation contracts that are ten percent shorter in return for a ten percent reduction in the landowner's property tax relief.

  • Pesticide reporting bill signed - - Gov. Schwarzenegger has signed AB 1963 by Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) requiring laboratories that test for pesticide poisoning to report their data to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Currently, labs only report test results to patients' physicians, not to any state agency.  The bill would allow health officials  to more accurately track pesticide exposure and implement safety precautions, said Assemblyman Nava.

  • Licensing fees for ag processors signed - - Gov. Schwarzenegger  has signed AB 2240  by the  Assembly Committee on Agriculture, authorizing CDFA to reevaluate the annual licensing fee structure for processors of farm products.  Current fee structure for the annual license is based on operating costs in 1998-99 and 1999-00. This bill authorizes CDFA to re-examine this fee structure based on operating costs (removing the years previously specified in the bill). 

  • ESA exemption bill signed - - Gov. Schwarzenegger has signed  SB 1303 by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis). The bill extends indefinitely a provision under the California Endangered Species Act that exempts farmers from penalties if their normal agricultural activities kill protected species. The rule is set to expire Jan. 1, 2011. 

  • Sustainable ag education programs re-established  - - Gov. Schwarzenegger  has signed AB 1891 by the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. The bill re-establishes two University of California programs whose legislative backing expired on Jan. 1. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program develops alternative farming practices through grants and educational efforts. The other program supports projects that educate and train farmers on biologically integrated farming systems.  

  • Overtime wages for ag workers vetoed by Governor - - SB 1121 by Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger on July 30, 2010. Existing law exempts ag employees from overtime pay requirements.  This bill would have removed that exemption.  In his veto message, Gov. Schwarzenegger said, “Unfortunately, this measure, while well-intended, will not improve the lives of California’s agricultural workers and instead will result in additional burdens on California businesses, increased unemployment, and lower wages. In order to remain competitive against other states that do not have such wage requirements, businesses will simply avoid paying overtime. Instead of working 10-hour days, multiple crews will be hired to work shorter shifts, resulting in lower take home pay for all workers. Businesses trying to compete under the new wage rules may become unprofitable and go out of business, resulting in further damage to our already fragile economy.”

Inactive Bills

Several pieces of legislation were placed on inactive status with the possibility they could be brought up for reconsideration in the next legislative session. Here is the status of some of those bills of interest.

  • California Grown - - AB 1960 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) would require state agencies to purchase California-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables when the quality is comparable and the price matches produce grown elsewhere. State agencies are "encouraged to purchase fruits, nuts, and vegetables that are produced, or produced and processed, in California before those that are produced outside of the state."  AB 1960 does not make a distinction between other U.S. states and other countries for products for the purpose of imports. This bill was approved by the Assembly 76-0 on June 3, 2010 but was not taken up by the Senate before the Aug. 31, 2010 deadline.

  • Bill would revoke pesticide permits for farmers not  meeting irrigation discharge regulations- - -AB2595 by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) would require county agricultural commissioners to withhold pesticide-application permits from farmers who don't meet regional rules governing the quality of discharge from irrigated fields. The bill passed the Assembly  by a 66-1 margin and was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee 10-0 on Aug. 2, 2010. It was placed on the inactive file as it was not taken up by the Aug. 31 deadline.

  • Water Transfers - - AB 2049 by Assemblyman Juan Arambula (D-Fresno), would prohibit water transfers of greater than a 10-year duration from agricultural to urban use. The bill was approved on a 8-4 vote on April 13, 2010  by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and referred to the Appropriations Committee.  The measure was defeated  twice in the Assembly, falling short of the required 41 votes for passage. On June 2, 2010 it failed to garner enough votes for passage, gathering 38 votes in support and 31 opposed.  The next day, it failed again on a 35-33 vote.

  • Ag Greenhouse Gas Emissions - - SB 1241 by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) would require the Department of Food and Agriculture to appropriate funds to help the agriculture sector reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions.  This bill was approved by the Senate Ag Committee 3-1 on April 6, 2010 and approved 4-2 by the Environmental Quality Committee on April 19, 2010.  It is being held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  •  Development of economic impact analysis for certain agency regulations  - - AB 1833 by Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Chico) requires CalEPA, Occupational Safety & Health, and the State Air Resources Board to develop an economic impact analysis when proposing, amending or repealing a regulation.  The goal is to shine a light on the regulatory costs imposed by these agencies on ag and other businesses.  This bill is pending consideration in the Natural Resources Committee and the Business and Professions Committee. The bill was defeated in the Business and Professions committee by a 4-7 vote on April 6, 2010 and was granted reconsideration.

  • Pesticide buffer zones - - AB 1721 by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Oakland)  would  restrict pesticides used within a ½ mile of school safety zones within 24 hours of when children are present.  AB 1721 inhibits the ability to use crop protection tools and jeopardizes the safety and quantity of locally grown products.  AB 1721 was withdrawn from consideration after bipartisan opposition from committee members at its April 14, 2010 hearing before the Assembly Ag Committee.

  • Diesel Emission Controls - - SB 1238 by Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) would require the state's Air Resources Board to consult with businesses, in addition to local districts and the general public, when it reviews diesel emission-control rules every three years. This bill is in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

  • Renewable energy projects on farmland - - SB 1153 by Sen. Loni Hancock ( D-Oakland,) would bind the legislature, through future legislation, to streamlining permitting processes and offering incentives for renewable-energy projects on agricultural land. This bill was approved 8-2 on April 20, 2010 by the  Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it is being held.

 

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