Commentary: Key ag bills to be acted upon in coming weeks

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Between now and Sept. 13, the state Legislature must take final action on hundreds of bills. As the Assembly returns to Sacramento this week, with the Senate to follow next week, our policy specialists at the California Farm Bureau Federation will be working hard to advance legislation that helps family farms and ranches—while working equally hard to fend off bills that harm California agriculture.

We're tracking dozens and dozens of bills at any given time, but here are several that we consider key.

Farm Bureau supports this legislation that would help family farms:

Assembly Bill 8 and Senate Bill 11 extend funding for air quality improvement programs until 2024. One program popular with farmers and ranchers, known as the Carl Moyer Program, provides incentives to purchase cleaner engines, equipment and emission-reduction technology. Authorization of the program's funding will expire in 2015 unless extended. AB 8, by Assembly members Henry Perea of Fresno and Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, passed the Assembly and awaits committee action in the Senate. SB 11, by Senators Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills and Anthony Cannella of Ceres, passed the Senate and will be heard next by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

AB 909, a CFBF-sponsored bill, expands the ability of law enforcement agencies to focus on fighting an epidemic of metal theft and ensures that existing laws for reducing the problem are enforced by creating a Metal Theft Task Force. This is follow-up legislation to a Farm Bureau-sponsored bill passed in 2008 that improved recordkeeping requirements for junk dealers and recyclers, and changed the way most payments are made for scrap metal. But more needs to be done to slow the rash of metal theft. AB 909, by Adam Gray of Merced, awaits action in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 749 extends a critical component of the California Endangered Species Act. Known as the "accidental take" provision, it protects farmers and ranchers who unknowingly affect endangered species through routine and ongoing agricultural activities. The accidental-take provision complements an "incidental take" provision, under which farmers and ranchers develop specific habitat enhancement programs and receive an allowance for the potential incidental take of a species. SB 749, by Lois Wolk of Davis, would extend the accidental-take provision to 2020. It awaits action in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Farm Bureau opposes this legislation that would harm family farms:

AB 10 would increase the state minimum wage from the current $8 an hour, with annual increases beginning in 2014 and ending at $10 an hour in 2018. AB 10 would impose a significant burden on employers—and harm the current workforce as struggling employers reduce hiring. California employers already face increased costs from the Affordable Care Act, newly enacted state tax increases and the partial reduction in federal unemployment insurance-related tax credits next year. The bill, by Luis Alejo of Salinas, awaits action in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

AB 69 would impose a 1 percent tax on all fertilizer sales, dedicated to reduce the presence of nitrates in drinking water, with the authority to increase the tax up to 4 percent based on certain conditions of fund reserves beginning in 2016. Clean drinking water is a high priority for everyone, but money collected through this tax could be used for a wide variety of water programs with vague directives. Meanwhile, the state already has $455 million in unspent funds that could be used to address drinking-water issues, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. AB 69, by Henry Perea, has been referred to two Senate committees for hearing.

AB 976 would allow the California Coastal Commission to impose administrative penalties without due process. Current law requires that penalties for violating the state Coastal Act be authorized by a court. Farm Bureau believes any penalties must result from a fair proceeding and should continue to be determined by an independent source. AB 976, by Toni Atkins of San Diego, has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 25 would permit a union to force an employer into a collective bargaining agreement that was abandoned years—or even decades—earlier. Current law allows a union to force an employer into mandatory mediation after 90 days of bargaining. SB 25 would remove the requirement to renew bargaining, meaning that a demand to bargain made years earlier would be enough to trigger immediate, mandatory mediation. As a result, current employees would have no opportunity to decide whether or not to seek union representation. SB 25, by Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, awaits action on the Assembly floor.

In addition to the measures above, the Legislature will be working on new water bond language, seeking to reduce the size of the bond and make various other changes. Farm Bureau supports the current bond and believes new surface storage is essential to having a workable water infrastructure system. Farm Bureau will be engaged in the upcoming discussions about the framework for and components of a new water bond.

The end of the legislative session moves fast, and more items may be added to this list of key bills. Watch for Capitol Alert updates in Ag Alert® between now and the end of session.

Outreach by individual farmers and ranchers will be crucial as key bills near final votes. If you haven't already done so, please sign up to receive Farm Team alerts, which provide status updates on important legislation and will notify you about key times to contact your legislators. To sign up, click on the Farm Team icon at www.cfbf.com.

Your help is important to make certain we can protect the viability of all California family farms and ranches.


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