Senate committee to again take up rural crime funding bill
To ensure that farms and ranches are protected and that their families remain safe, California Farm Bureau Federation encourages its members to contact the state Legislature to encourage support for Senate Bill 453, which would extend and fund the Central Valley Rural Crime Prevention Program.
"The Central Valley Rural Crime Prevention Program is necessary for the protection of rural communities throughout the state. Without this program, we lose significant law-enforcement efforts to combat rural crime," said Noelle Cremers, California Farm Bureau Federation director of natural resources and commodities.
The Senate Public Safety Committee is scheduled to vote on SB 453 on May 3. The bill would provide $3.5 million to the program operated by eight Central Valley county sheriff's offices.
The Senate Public Safety Committee in late March failed to approve SB 453 at an earlier session in spite of broad and bipartisan support. The committee voted in favor of the bill 3-0, but four "aye" votes were needed to pass it out of the seven-member committee.
Members of the committee cited opposition from the state public defenders association as their reason for not voting for the bill. While no representative from any public defenders' office in any of the eight affected Central Valley counties testified against the measure, their state association's lobbyist sought an amendment to the bill to garner funds for public defenders.
If the bill is not approved the second time, state funding for the program will expire on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
"This program is crucial to protecting property rights and the economy of the richest agricultural-producing region in the world. For the public defenders' association to jeopardize the program's existence by seeking a ransom for removal of opposition is deplorable," said state Sen. Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno, who authored the bill. "There is no claim that a single defendant accused of committing a rural crime has ever been denied legal representation. Holding the rural crime prevention program hostage is an affront."
District attorneys, sheriff's investigators, agricultural commissioners, farmers and others in the Central Valley testified to the importance of this cost-effective and very successful program both at a recent hearing and in person before the Senate committee.
(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
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