November 11, 2011
Almond Board
California Legislative Report: Update on Issues Affecting California's Almond Industry

State and federal ag issues update

  • Federal, state budget cuts will impact almond industry - - Federal and state budget cuts are already impacting the California Almond industry but more cuts lie ahead. That message was clear from two leading farm policy experts during an agricultural issues update held Oct. 28 at the Almond Board office. Dee Dee D’Adamo, senior policy advisor for Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced), noted that writing the next Farm Bill is on hold as the “Super Committee” considers $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions, including $23 billion recommended by the House Ag Committee.  Those cuts could impact funding for research, USDA’s Market Access Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. Jim Collin, chief consultant to the Assembly Agriculture Committee, pointed to the State Water Resources Control Board’s recent action to raise fees due to state budget cuts.  Programs such as the irrigated lands programs will be impacted; members could see fee increases of some 300% to 400%. The Ag Policy and Legislative Issues Update briefings were initiated by the ABC to educate almond industry members on relevant legislative and regulatory issues. 

    Here are links to more information on some of the state and federal legislative and regulatory items presented by Collin and D' Adamo:

Labor

  • Labor Relations. Senate Bill 126 would allow the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to certify a union as the bargaining agent for employees if it finds employer misconduct that, "in addition to affecting the outcome of the election, would render slight the chances of a new election reflecting the free and fair choice of employees."

  • State E-Verify.  Assembly Bill 1236 by Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Mountain View) says the state, a city or a county cannot require an employer to use E-Verify unless required by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds.

  • Federal E-Verify.  Currently, E-Verify is not mandated under federal law but there is a pending bill, the Legal Workforce Act by  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), that would make E-Verify mandatory. The bill would phase in nationwide mandatory participation over two years, covering new hires. Agricultural employers would get three years to comply and seasonal farmworkers would be exempt so long as they kept returning to the same employer.

Energy

  •  Net Metering.  Senate Bill 489, by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), means farmers can use the byproduct of their crops as fuel to create electricity. The bill changes the rules to allow farmers to connect machines that create bioenergy to the electrical grid.

Air Quality

  • Cap and trade program adopted.  The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has adopted a cap and trade program. The program will go into effect in 2012 but there is a one-year extension so there is no enforcement until 2013. Board members have worked hard to provide additional flexibility for the food proecessing sector, said D'Adamo who serves on the board. If there is a determination that the food processing industry is "trade exposed" there is flexibility built into the cap and trade provisions. CARB is examining each sector to see how "trade exposed" the sectors are and what allowances there may be. Processors willl be learning more about this process in the future.

Land Use

  • Williamson Act revival bill.  A bill to help preserve agricultural land by saving farmers property tax   was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) reintroduced legislation this year, sponsored by the California State Farm Bureau Federation, which would save part of the Williamson Act.  Under Assembly Bill 1265  farmers would lose 10 percent of their Williamson Act tax savings but that money goes directly to the county, rather than the state.

Water

  • Ag water measuring standards. The California Water Commission has recommended that the state Department of Water Resources adopt agricultural water measurement regulations that would require accurate measurement devices on nearly all irrigation laterals and turnouts in the state—estimated at more than 115,000 gates. Developed under SBx7-7 as part of the comprehensive water legislation of 2009, the proposed regulations would set volume accuracy requirements for delivered water at between 5 percent and 12 percent, with a deadline for water suppliers to begin measuring volumes delivered to farm and ranch customers by July 31, 2012. Phase-in of the volume measuring requirements has not yet been decided. It could be three years, as DWR has proposed, or it may vary depending on water district circumstances. The 2009 legislation requires that DWR adopt regulations that provide for a range of options that agricultural water suppliers may use to comply with the measurement requirement. It also mandates adoption by water districts of a pricing structure for water customers based, at least in part, on quantity delivered. More information is available on the California Department of Water Resources website.
  • Irrigated lands permit fees raised - - The State Water Resource Control Board voted in September to increase fees by $27.6 million for all water quality permit holders in California. The fee increases are intended to fill gaps in the state budget by shifting the cost for regulatory programs, such as the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP), from taxpayers to permit fee payers. An estimated $1.8 million in higher fees will be collected from farmers through coalitions by the State Water Board.  The money goes to pay board administrative costs for (ILRP) in the Central Valley, Central Coast and other regions. How higher fees translate into increased dues for farmers and ranchers will vary by watershed coalition.  More Central Valley almond growers are expected to become paying members of a watershed coalition as the existing ILRP expands to cover groundwater over the next 18 months.  Growers will again have the option of having an individual permit or joining a coalition. More information is available on the CURES website www.curesworks.org.

Farm Bill

  • CDFA Farm Bill recommendations- - California has submitted recommendations to Congress on the upcoming Farm Bill to inform discussions of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, known as the Committee of 12 and tasked with making recommendations to reduce the federal deficit.  California’s recommendations focus on job creation, protecting the environment and natural resources, revitalizing rural economies, making investments in education, promoting renewable energy, and improving public health and nutrition. The CDFA's Farm Bill framing document can be viewed by clicking here.  

Redistricting Impact

  • New political maps approved, available for viewing - - New political boundaries for the state Assembly, Senate, Congressional and Board of Equalization districts were approved by the Citizens Redistricting Committee. The 2012 elections will be the first to reflect the redrawing of the districts that will be in place through 2020. The new maps can be viewed at the California Chamber of Commerce website http://www.calchamber.com/GovernmentRelations/PublicAffairs/Pages/Redistricting.aspx  

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