Nov. 11, 2010
Almond Board
California Legislative Report: Update on Issues Affecting California's Almond Industry

Election results

  • California Democrats control Governor’s office and legislature - - The Nov. 2 election resulted in the Democrats talking back the governor’s office, while retaining their majorities in the Assembly and Senate. Democrats took seven of the eight state Constitutional offices. The Attorney General race results are still unknown. Former Governor Jerry Brown (D-Oakland) returns to the Governor’s office after 27 years since his last stint as California’s top official.  In the 40-member State Senate, 24 Democrats will have simple majority control, while 14 Republicans join them.  There are two vacancies awaiting special elections due to the death of two sitting senators.  In the 80-member assembly, Democrats continue to hold a significant lead over Republicans with 52 members to 27 Republicans, 1 Independent and 2 vacancies.

  • House Ag Committee sees 15 of 28 Democrats lose - - The House Agriculture Committee will have a dramatically different look following the midterm elections, as 15 of the 28 Democrats on the committee lost their re-election bids. Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) won re-election after a stiff challenge from Hanford farmer Andy Vidak. Fellow committee member Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) easily won re-election, defeating Mike Berryhill by a 57%-42% margin. The list of Democratic ag committee casualties included: * Jim Marshall, Ga.* Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, S.D.* Jim Costa, Calif.* Brad Ellsworth, Ind.* Steve Kagen, Wis.* Deborah L. Halvorson, Ill.* Kathleen A. Dahlkemper, Pa.* Bobby Bright, Ala.* Betsy Markey, Colo.* Frank Kratovil, Md.* Mark H. Schauer, Mich.* John Boccieri, Ohio* Scott Murphy, N.Y.* Earl Pomeroy, N.D.* Travis W. Childers, Miss.* Walt Minnick, Idaho. The committee’s ranking minority member, Rep. Frank Lucas, Oklahoma, is in line to take over as chairman. The second ranking minority member is Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who chaired the committee during the first term of the Bush Administration. Republican member Jerry Moran of Kansas goes off the committee following his successful bid to be elected to the Senate. Nov. 3, 2010 

  • Senate Ag Committee Chair Lincoln loses re-election bid - - Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas lost her seat to a Republican challenger Tuesday Republican John Boozman was to become only the second Republican from Arkansas to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction. Democrats following Lincoln in seniority on the committee are, in order, Pat Leahy of Vermont, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana.  However, each of them already chair other Senate committees and would not likely give up their current position to take over the agriculture panel. The next in line — Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — is not currently a committee chairman. Tradition would dictate that she would be handed the chairman’s gavel.

  • Voters reject bid to suspend climate change law - - California voters overwhelmingly rejected a controversial measure to roll back the state's landmark climate- change law, sending a strong pro-environment message at a time of deep economic weakness. Voters rejected Prop, 23 by a margin of 61%-39% . The measure would have suspended the state's four-year-old greenhouse gas-reduction law.

State Budget

  • Legislature Passes Budget 100 Days Late - - Well over three months beyond the constitutional deadline, the California Legislature on Oct. 8, 2010 approved a state budget for 2010-2011. The delayed budget attempts to close the $19 billion deficit, $7.7 billion of which is part of the shortfall carried over from last year. The budget will spend $87.5 billion during the fiscal year. However, the budget picture became even darker on Nov. 10, 2010 when California's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office reported that the state's budget deficit has grown to $25.4 billion through June 2012. The AO also reported that measures passed by California voters last week will cost the state up to $1 billion per year.  The budget will be the top priority for newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown and his administration. State Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga has called on Gov. Schwarzenegger to call a lame-duck session of the Legislature.

Williamson Act

  • Williamson Act funding secured in new state budget - - The state budget recently signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger includes $10 million for Williamson Act subvention payments to counties. The $10 million in funding was approved in conjunction with an interim program to modify the Williamson Act. The interim program allows counties receiving less than one-half of their foregone general fund property tax revenue--related to the Williamson Act program--to voluntarily implement new contracts that are 10 percent shorter in length in exchange for a 10 percent reduction in the landowner’s property tax relief. The landowners help offset the loss of state dollars to the counties and still retain the vast majority of their Williamson Act property tax benefits. The counties keep the funds, not the state. This is not a mandatory program and each county can choose whether or not to participate. In addition, the program will sunset in 2015 and can be ended earlier if a county desires.

Water

  • Longley reappointed to Regional Water Board - - Karl Longley was re-appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger for another term on the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.  Longley, who is the board representative for “Water Quality,” has served on the board since 1993 and also held chairmanships from 2006 to 2009 and from 1993 to 1997.  Longley is a retired dean of engineering from California State University, Fresno and is currently Director Emeritus for the California Water Institute at CSUF.

  • 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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