The California Legislature completed its annual business on August 31 and members have departed Sacramento for the remainder of the year. Bills that passed out of the legislature have been submitted to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. He has until September 30 to issue his signature or veto. The 2016 legislative year was extremely active for issues affecting California agriculture. Below is a brief snapshot of some of the high-profile bills that were acted on this year and the action, if any, that has been taken by Governor Brown at the time of this writing.
Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D, San Diego) introduced AB 2757 in February which would have repealed agriculture’s existing overtime requirements and required overtime to be paid after eight hours in a day and over 40 hours in a week. There was significant discussion in the Legislature about the double whammy that our members would now be faced with given the decision in April to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022. WG played a key role in helping to lead a broad coalition in opposition to this bill. AB 2757 was ultimately defeated in the Assembly. Unfortunately, in response to this defeat the author did a “gut-and-amend” of one of her bills in the Senate and reintroduced this issue in the form of AB 1066. This bill also requires overtime to be paid after 8 hours in a day and over 40 hours in a week. The provisions would be phased in over a four-year period starting in 2019. Employers with 25 or fewer employees would have an additional three years before they would have to comply with the new provisions. In an extremely disappointing move, the governor signed AB 1066. As WG President and CEO Tom Nassif stated, “The governor has set in motion a chain of events that will cause workers in our fields to lose wages. It is one thing to dismiss the rationale for a seasonal industry to have a 10-hour overtime threshold rather than an eight-hour threshold. It is something entirely worse to dismiss economic reality.”
Major air quality legislation opposed by WG also moved forward this year. SB 32 by Senator Pavley (D, Agoura Hills) was signed by the governor and requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to approve a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit that is equivalent to at least 40 percent below the 1990 level to be achieved by 2030. The governor is also expected to sign SB 1383 by Senator Lara (D, Bell Gardens). SB 1383 would require CARB to approve and implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants to achieve a reduction in methane emissions by 40 percent, hydrofluorocarbon gas emissions by 40 percent, and black carbon emissions by 50 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. Both of these bills will have negative consequences for our field and processing operations.
As expected, there were significant policy discussions this year regarding water. Legislation was introduced that seeks to enhance transfers and create a more functional and transparent water market. AB 1755 (Dodd) would create, operate, and maintain a statewide integrated water data platform that, among other things, would integrate existing water and ecological data information from multiple databases and provide data on completed water transfers and exchanges. This measure is awaiting action by the governor. Water market legislation stalled this year, so we expect to see another attempt to establish transparent water transfers and markets introduced next year. Clean drinking water continues to be a focus of Governor Brown’s administration. Because some citizens in the state do not currently have access to clean, affordable, and accessible drinking water, the State Water Resources Control Board has begun to threaten enforcement action against “responsible parties”—landowners whose past or current application of nitrogen fertilizer establishes liability for nitrate contamination of domestic wells. WG continues to work with the administration, environmental justice organizations, and the Legislature to develop language that protects growers from third party lawsuits if they voluntarily provide alternative drinking water to people served by domestic wells contaminated by nitrates.
On a positive note, our industry dealt with numerous challenges in the crop protection arena this year. In addition to specific attacks that anti-pesticide groups mounted against individual active ingredients, there were several legislative pushes to make the application of synthetic pesticides more restrictive. These bills were all defeated in their house of origin.
2016 was a painfully-active year for the California Legislature. It is too early to predict what opportunities and challenges will present themselves next year, it is clear that our industry needs to further increase our efforts to protect our interests from an increasingly distant and hostile Legislature.