Governor acts on agricultural bills at deadline
By Kate Campbell
As his deadline approached to act on bills passed at the end of the 2011-12 legislative session, Gov. Brown signed a number of measures supported by farm organizations and vetoed two bills that would have imposed inflexible heat illness-prevention rules on California farmers and ranchers.
In veto statements, Brown noted California has the most stringent worker heat standards in the nation and said compliance with those regulations has steadily increased for agriculture and other outdoor industries.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger welcomed the vetoes and thanked the governor "for recognizing the heat illness prevention efforts of farmers, ranchers, agricultural organizations and Cal/OSHA."
The vetoed bills, Assembly Bill 2346 and AB 2676, would have each placed additional burdens on farmers who already work under comprehensive heat-safety regulations.
AB 2346 by Betsy Butler, D-Los Angeles, would have allowed workers to sue employers for violations of the heat standard and made farmers and ranchers jointly liable for violations of their farm labor contractors.
Brown described the bill as flawed and said it would have created a new enforcement structure that would single out agricultural employers and burden the courts with private lawsuits.
"I believe the regulatory process is more flexible and the better way to improve standards for farmworkers," Brown said.
AB 2676, by Charles Calderon, D-Whitter, would have expanded heat illness penalties, making violations a misdemeanor punishable by potential monetary fines and jail time.
In his veto message, Brown said he believes enforcement of heat standards can be improved, but said he is "not convinced that creating a new crime—and a crime that applies only to one group of employers—is the answer."
Wenger noted Farm Bureau and other farm organizations will continue to work cooperatively with Cal/OSHA to develop and strengthen existing heat-illness regulations.
"The best way to assure heat safety is through comprehensive, coordinated efforts involving employers, employees and regulators," Wenger said.
Terming the legislative session "generally successful" for agriculture overall, CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis said Farm Bureau members played an important role through letter writing and contacting their legislators in person, as well as testifying during committee hearings at the state Capitol.
For example, active participation in efforts to pass a timber reform bill, AB 1492, helped lead to its signing on Sept. 11.
The measure extends the length of a timber harvest plan, limits wildfire liability for landowners neighboring government-owned lands, requires accountability from agencies that review timber harvest plans and pays for plan review through a 1 percent assessment on lumber sold at the retail level.
Matteis said the new law "gives our timber businesses a chance to compete fairly against out-of-state lumber and represents real forest policy reform."
Other bills supported by Farm Bureau and agricultural organizations were signed into law before the deadline:
• Senate Bill 965, by Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, improves communications between interested parties and members of the State Water Resources Control Board and regional boards. Previously, proceedings governing general permits, such as the irrigated lands regulatory programs and stormwater permits, strictly prohibited those being regulated from speaking directly to a board member, which Matteis called "a significant impediment to developing sound and thoughtful regulations."
"Now, farmers and local agencies can speak with board members, providing discussions are disclosed and any materials provided to a board member are put into the public record at the next meeting," he said.
- SB 594 by Lois Wolk, D-Davis, allows an electrical customer with multiple meters to install one renewable energy facility sized to serve all meters on the same property or on adjoining property, instead of installing separate facilities at each meter.
- AB 1966 by Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, protects property rights of landowners where underground mineral rights are held by others. Under the new law, mineral rights owners will have to provide a minimum of five days' notice when entering a property for survey work, and give a minimum of 30 days' notice when entering a property for excavation or other surface-disrupting activities.
- AB 907, also by Ma, strengthens California's processors law to ensure farmers are paid for the products they deliver to food processors and wineries.
- AB 2111, by Nora Campos, D-San Jose, adds utility-terrain vehicles and farm shade trailers to the list of exempted implements of husbandry in the vehicle code, making them exempt from vehicle registration when used exclusively in off-road, agricultural operations.
- AB 2174 by Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, clarifies how fertilizer assessments may be used for technical education and research to advise farmers on methods to reduce the impacts of fertilizer use, and broadens the focus of the state fertilizer research and education program.
- AB 1508 by Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, strengthens laws against metal theft.
One measure signed into law despite Farm Bureau opposition was AB 685 by Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park, which guarantees a "human right to water."
Matteis said that general goal seems unobjectionable, but that the law's language creates concern because water districts may find it interferes with collection on delinquent accounts and suspension of service, and because of its potential impact on water rights and agriculture. He said opponents of the bill were able to force last-minute changes that may minimize impacts on water right holders.
For more information about bills signed or vetoed, see Capitol Alert.
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.