September 12, 2011
Almond Board
California Legislative Report: Update on Issues Affecting California's Almond Industry

State Legislature

  • New bill would preserve secret elections for unionization  - - The multi-year battle over proposed “card-check” legislation appears to have been resolved as the Legislature on Sept. 9, 2011 approved a bill proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown that makes revisions to the state Agricultural Labor Relations Act, and preserves the secret ballot election for unionization. The bill was approved this week by the Assembly and Senate and Gov. Brown has said he will sign it.  SB 126, authored by state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), will give new powers to the state’s Agriculture Labor Relations Board to certify a union if it finds a grower has acted illegally to thwart a union election. It also accelerates timelines for workers to seek binding mediation in disputes with their employers.  The governor said his proposal "does speed things up, and it does provide a remedy." Key provisions in SB 126 address specific problems that had been claimed with the current law. For example, SB 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." Analysts who have read the bill indicated that its intent appears to be to have the legislation apply in cases where employers have acted illegally.

  • Net metering bill for bioenergy production approved by Legislature - - The  Assembly and Senate have overwhelmingly approved a bill that would change the rules to allow farmers to connect machines that create bioenergy to the electrical grid, a privilege that has thus far been reserved for farm-generated wind and solar energy. Passage of the bill, SB 489, by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) means farmers could use the byproduct of their crops as fuel to create electricity. Supporters of SB 489 are close to reaching their goal. The bill has a broad range of environmental and agricultural supporters, including the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) and the California Farm Bureau Federation.  Senate sponsor Lois Wolk (D-Stockton) says Governor Jerry Brown has been supportive of the bill and that if it gets to his desk  he’s likely to sign it.

  • Williamson Act revival bill signed by governor - A bill to help preserve agricultural land by saving farmers property tax   has been 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. Assembly Bill 1265 was given final approval by the Assembly on July 5, 2011 by a 76-0 margin. The Williamson Act was originally passed in 1965 and allowed landowners to enter into a 10- or 20-year contract agreement to keep land in agricultural production. In exchange, property owners paid taxes based on farm land value, rather than the current market value. In 1972, the state began repayment to counties for the difference between the taxes they would have collected, and the property taxes under the Williamson Act. Under the new law, farmers would lose 10 percent of their Williamson Act tax savings but that money goes directly to the county, rather than the state. Last year Nielsen also worked for a $10 million fund to partially repay counties for some of the money they lose through lower taxes for farmers. While that funding is not part of the current legislation waiting to be signed, Nielsen said he is already working on "the next step to save the Williamson Act."

  • 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 on  Aug. 15, 2011. 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  

  • Pegg  leaves AMS to rejoin California Farm Bureau national affairs staff - - After serving in both state and federal agricultural agencies, Rayne Pegg has rejoined the California Farm Bureau Federation as assistant manager of the National Affairs and Research Division. Pegg will also serve as director of special state policy projects. She will focus on issues including federal affairs, the 2012 Farm Bill, food safety, congressional outreach and the state budget. Pegg rejoins CFBF after serving for the past two years as administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. 

Air Quality

  • Obama Administration pulls back proposal to tighten ground level ozone standard - - The Obama administration is abandoning its plan to immediately tighten air-quality rules nationwide to reduce emissions of smog-causing chemicals. The White House announced Sept. 1, 2011 that it was overruling the Environmental Protection Agency plan to adopt a stricter standard for ground-level ozone. The US-EPA, following the recommendation of its scientific advisers, had proposed lowering the so-called ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, set at the end of the Bush administration, to a stricter standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion. The change would have thrown hundreds of counties across the nation out of compliance with the Clean Air Act and required a major enforcement effort by state and local officials, as well as required new emissions controls at industries. The administration will try to follow the more lenient Bush administration standard set in 2008 until a scheduled reconsideration of acceptable pollution limits due to take place in 2013.
     

  • New requirements for internal combustion engines revealed - - The San Joaquin Valley air district announced Sept. 9, 2011 that it has become aware of additional US-EPA requirements for internal combustion engines. The air district does not have authority to implement this rule for minor sources at this time, according to Dave Warner, director of permit services, in an email notice sent to agricultural groups. Many requirements are contained in this rule for stationary engines of all sizes, but perhaps most importantly, the rule requires that stationary diesel engines above 300 hp and stationary spark-ignited engines above 500 hp be equipped with catalysts to reduce carbon dioxide and formaldehyde emissions. Applications for any necessary permits to implement this rule, such as installing the control equipment, must be submitted by May 3, 2012, and the controls must be installed and operating by May 3, 2013.There is no exemption in the regulation for stationary agricultural engines, according to Warner.  More iformation on the rule is available by clicking here.

Water

  • Westlands Water district celebrates smelt ruling - - A recent decision by a federal judge involving the threatened delta smelt fish is a win for San Joaquin Valley agriculture, according to the Westlands Water District. The district is celebrating the ruling by Judge Oliver Wanger, who ruled in a Fresno federal court that the federal government had placed faulty limits on saltwater encroachment into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Wanger ruled that the saltwater-freshwater line could be moved higher up the delta, potentially saving more than 97 billion gallons of urban and municipal water that otherwise would have flowed out to sea, Westlands said in a press statement. “This is another important step forward for good science, ensuring that our efforts to protect the delta will be guided by the best available data and not by outmoded assumptions or fanciful speculation,” said Thomas Birmingham, Westlands general manager, in a written statement.
  • State, feds to move aggressively on Delta plan - -State and federal officials announced Aug. 12, 2011 an "aggressive" schedule to complete the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would convert tens of thousands of acres of farmland to wetland, and could include the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnel. They also announced the "potential" for an additional $100 million from water contractors who rely on Delta water. That money is needed to finish writing the plan; billions more will be needed to actually execute it.

USDA Economic Report

  • Almonds remain California’s top tree nut crop - - In a first for the state, three nut crops topped $1 billion in revenue last year. Walnuts, pistachios and almonds all set production records in 2010. Almonds remained California's top tree nut crop, earning an estimated $2.8 billion for producers last year. According to the report, 11 agricultural products topped the $1 billion earnings mark for the year (another first).

Transportation

  • Transportation Department backs away from new farm rules - - The U.S. Department of Transportation announced in mid-August it is backing away from any new regulations that would affect farm operations and the transport of agricultural products. USDOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced today Aug. 10, 2011 "that it has no intention to propose new regulations governing the transport of agricultural products. The agency also released guidance designed to make sure states clearly understand the common sense exemptions that allow farmers, their employees, and their families to accomplish their day-to-day work and transport their products to market." 

Farm Safety

  • U.S. Labor Department proposes farm child labor regulation updates - - The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing revisions to child labor regulations that will strengthen the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture and related fields. The agricultural hazardous occupations orders under the Fair Labor Standards Act that bar young workers from certain tasks have not been updated since they were promulgated in 1970. The department is proposing updates based on the enforcement experiences of its Wage and Hour Division, recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and a commitment to bring parity between the rules for young workers employed in agricultural jobs and the more stringent rules that apply to those employed in nonagricultural workplaces. The proposed regulations would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents. The proposal would strengthen current child labor regulations prohibiting agricultural work with animals and work that involves pesticides, timber operations, manure pits, and storage bins. It would prohibit farmworkers under the age of 16 from participating in the cultivation, harvesting, or curing of tobacco. And it would prohibit youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic devices, including communication equipment, while operating power-driven equipment.

 

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