May 11, 2012
Almond Board
Almond Board of California Legislative Report: Update on Issues Affecting California's Almond Industry

Congress

  • Senate Ag Committee posts farm bill summary - - Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) has posted a 16-page summary of the committee's draft of the Agriculture Reform, Food & Jobs Act of 2012 online. The farm bill summary includes brief descriptions of the provisions in each title. The bill contains major policy reforms to commodity and conservation programs, reforms the nation's dairy policy along the lines sought by producers and cooperatives and has savings pegged at $23 billion over its five-year life. The summary is online at www.ag.senate.gov/download/?id=bc6e8dd7-987d-483b-802c-8af476320155.

  • Senate Ag Committee passes Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012   - With the 2008 Farm bill expiring Sept. 30, 2012, both the House and the Senate have been conducting hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill.  The Senate Agriculture Committee recently approved the Senate version with a 16-5 bipartisan vote.  The legislation must be considered and passed by the full Senate before moving to the House. The Senate legislation includes increased funding for pest and disease management programs of $60 million in 2013 up to $65 million in 2017; increased funding of $70 million annually for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program and allows for multistate projects related to pest and disease, food safety and commodity-specific projects; full funding for the MAP/TASC programs that provide technical assistance for trade issues; funding for research on how to expand crop insurance availability to specialty crops; and directs the Secretary to assess the feasibility of creating an organic promotion program.  The legislation represents over $23 Billion in savings over the next five years through eliminating direct payments, consolidating programs and ending duplication, and by cracking down on abuse in food assistance programs.  The 2013 budget approved by the House, however, reduces agricultural spending by over $33 billion over the next five years.  While the discrepancy in budgetary numbers raises the likelihood the Farm Bill will be passed this year, leaders in both the House and the Senate have shown confidence that legislation will be passed.
     

  • The Department of Labor withdraws farm youth labor restrictions  - - In its official statement, the U.S. Department of Labor said the decision to withdraw its proposed on-farm child labor rule “was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rule on small family-owned farms.  To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”  It is reported the DOL received over 8,000 comments to this rule.  That, combined with legislation introduced in both the House and the Senate opposed to this rule, led to its withdrawal.

  • Estate tax bills introduced with current law set to expire - - Legislation that would reform the estate tax has been introduced in both houses of Congress. The current estate tax provisions, which include a five million dollar per person exemption and a top tax rate of 35 percent, will expire at the end of this year. If Congress doesn’t act, the exemption drops to one million and the top tax rate above the exclusion amount jumps to 55 percent.
    U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D) has introduced the Death Tax Repeal Permanency Act of 2012 (S. 2242), to abolish the federal estate tax. Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced identical legislation in the House of Representatives and the bill currently has over 200 bipartisan cosponsors. Not only would Thune’s bill repeal the federal estate tax, but it would also repeal the generation skipping transfer (GST) tax, make permanent the maximum 35 percent gift tax rate and a $5 million lifetime gift tax exemption, and maintain the stepped-up basis provisions important to family farms and businesses.

State Legislature

  • Bill tightening penalties for farm attacks passed by Assembly committee - -
    Assemblyman David Valadao’s (R-Hanford) measure, AB 2177, to tighten criminal penalties for those committing certain types of violence at livestock facilities was unanimously approved last week by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety. Sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association, AB 2177 adds livestock facilities to the list of places where it is a felony to ignite a destructive device or commit arson with the intent to terrorize. A prison term of up to seven years could result from engaging in such action, and the felony charge could be combined with other charges to include penalties of up to 10 years or life in prison. The bill covers, but is not limited to beef cattle feedlots, milk cow dairies, egg and poultry operations, swine breeding and growing farms, livestock auction yards and slaughterhouses. The bill now moves to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations for consideration.

  • California Legislator Voting Record on-line - - For the first time, you can look up the voting record of every state legislator in California. Wondering how often your legislator broke party ranks, abstained or switched sides? Enter the last and first name of the lawmaker you're researching to see how he or she voted, or enter a bill number to see how every legislator voted on it. The online database is located at http://www.sacbee.com/votingrecord/

State Ballot Measures

  • Signatures in for genetically engineered food labels measure - - Supporters of a proposal to require labeling for genetically engineered foods sold on California shelves took a step this week toward qualifying for the ballot by submitting nearly a million signatures. Initiative proponents announced they submitted 971,126 signatures to county election officials across the state. Roughly 504,000 valid voter signatures are needed to qualify for the November ballot.

Water

  • State Water Project allocation increased to 60 percent - - The State Water Project is expected to deliver 60 percent of the water requested this year – up from an earlier estimate of 50 percent, the state Department of Water Resources says. Originally, DWR projected in November that it would be able to supply 60 percent of the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet of SWP water requested, but a dry December, January and February dropped that figure to 50 percent. This increase is due to an unusually wet March and higher-than-average reservoir storage carried over from last winter. “This is good news for our water supply as we approach summer’s peak-demand period,” says DWR Director Mark Cowin. “But we must remember that we still had a dry winter despite a partial recovery in March, and we need to be prepared for a potentially second consecutive dry year in 2013, when reservoir storage would be reduced.” A 60 percent allocation is not unusually low, DWR says. Wet conditions last year allowed SWP to deliver 80 percent of the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet requested by the 29 public agencies that supply more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of irrigated farmland. The final allocation was 50 percent in 2010, 40 percent in 2009, 35 percent in 2008, and 60 percent in 2007. The last 100 percent allocation–difficult to achieve even in wet years–was in 2006.

  • House bill to block runoff rules passes - - A bill that would prevent the federal government from regulating water runoff from private lands was approved by the House Appropriations Committee April 30, 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Corps of Engineers have been working on official guidance of the Clean Water Act that could essentially include regulation of runoff from agricultural fields into farm ditches. The House Appropriations bill includes language that would prohibit the EPA and the Corps from using funds to implement that guidance. The Senate has introduced a similar bill. The bipartisan House bill H.R. 4965 was introduced by Republican representatives Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, John Mica of Florida and Bob Gibbs of Ohio – and – Democrats Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Collin Peterson of Minnesota

  • Gov. Brown appoints Mark Cowin Director of Water Resources - - Gov. Brown has appointed Mark Cowin as director of the Department of Water Resources (DWR). "With over three decades of experience at the Department of Water Resources, Mark Cowin has the track record to lead this truly vital part of our infrastructure," said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird. "Tens of millions of Californians rely on water from DWR and the State Water Project for use in their homes, on their farms, and other businesses -- Cowin understands the importance of keeping the system running at peak efficiency." Cowin has been acting director and director of DWR since February of 2010. Mr. Cowin has extensive experience with California water resources management and has worked at DWR for over 30 years. As acting DWR director, Cowin heads a department that protects, conserves and manages the state's water supply, including operation of the California State Water Project (SWP). The SWP is the largest state-run, multi-purpose water and power system in the United States. Cowin also plays a primary role in implementing the Bay Delta Conversation Plan. Prior to his appointment as director, Cowin served as deputy director of integrated water management for DWR. His primary responsibilities included overseeing the department's flood management and dam safety programs, implementing integrated regional water management, coordinating DWR's efforts related to climate change, and updating and implementing the California Water Plan.

  • Public workshop on nitrate study set for May 23 - - A public workshop to gather comments on possible solutions to the nitrate groundwater contamination issue and how to fund those solutions will be held Wednesday, May 23, in Sacramento. The State Water Resources Control Board hearing on the landmark UC Davis nitrate study begins at 9 a.m. in the Coastal Hearing Room, second floor, Cal EPA building, 1001 I Street, Sacramento. The report and public input will be used to inform the State Water Board in developing its recommendations for its report to the Legislature later in 2012. A live video stream of the May Workshop will be shown at http://www.calepa.ca.gov/broadcast/. The UC Davis Report on Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water is available at: http://groundwaternitrate.ucdavis.edu/

Air Quality

  • New grant program targets small-business, heavy-duty truck operators - - A new San Joaquin Valley Air District grant program allows grants for smaller, heavy-duty truck businesses that may have not qualified for previous funding assistance. Applications are already being accepted. “This program addresses a significant number of trucking operations in the valley that, because of their size, were unable to be funded through other programs. We are very pleased to offer this community much-needed assistance,” said Samir Sheikh, the Air District's grants program director. Through the Heavy Duty Truck Voucher program, the District will contract with truck dealerships, which will offset the cost of new trucks to purchasers with the funding. Dealerships will assist applicants with the application process and all related requirements, including eligibility verification, truck inspections and submitting applications to the District. Dealerships are also responsible for delivering old vehicles to dismantlers. For more information or to apply, contact the District's Grants program at (559) 230-6000 or visit http://www.valleyair.org/Grant_Programs/GrantPrograms.htm.

USDA

  • Merced County asks for disaster relief after hailstorm - - The Merced County Department of Agriculture has asked the federal government to provide disaster relief to farmers hit by last month's hailstorm. The damage is estimated at $6.5 million, with losses to strawberries, kiwis, almonds and peaches. If the disaster declaration is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers will be able to apply for emergency loans and other federal relief.

  • Shipman Named Administrator for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service - - David R. Shipman, who has been acting administrator for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) since August 2011, was named administrator of AMS this week. Prior to being named acting administrator, Shipman was the associate administrator of AMS. Before joining AMS as associate administrator in April 2008, Shipman was deputy administrator for USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.  He has worked for USDA in various positions for 36 years.

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