Policy Update

2016 Final Legislative Report: Climate-Friendly Farming Plan Enacted

by Pete Price, CAFF Board Member

The 2015-16 legislative session adjourned on August 31, leaving the Governor until September 30 to sign or veto the bills on his desk.  CAFF supported 12 bills in 2016, and seven were signed into law, while five failed passage in the Legislature.  One bill opposed by CAFF, AB 1066, was signed by the Governor.

Climate-Friendly Farming:  Years of work by CAFF and our coalition partner, CalCAN, finally bore fruit in 2016 when the Legislature passed and the Governor signed two bills to promote climate-friendly farming practices:

  • SB 859 (Wolk) – reforms the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Environmental Farming program and establishes the Healthy Soils program at CDFA, which will provide financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers who adopt farming practices, such as cover crops, compost usage and no-till cultivation, to reduce carbon emissions and sequester carbon in soils and woody biomass.
  • AB 1613 (Assembly Budget Committee) – appropriates $7.5 million from the state’s cap and trade auction revenues to support CDFA’s Healthy Soils program.

As late as mid-August, the Legislature seemed determined to appropriate little if any of the cap and trade revenues designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially for new programs like Healthy Soils.  But persistent pressure by CAFF, including getting eleven Assembly members to send a letter to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in support of funding for Healthy Soils, turned the tide and resulted in the first funds dedicated to climate-friendly farming in California.

Just as important, Senator Wolk pushed her SB 859 through both houses, to ensure that the Healthy Soils program will support rigorous, proven, climate-friendly farming practices.  The enactment of SB 859 and AB 1613 marks one of the biggest legislative achievements in CAFF’s history, and creates exciting opportunities for CAFF to work with farmers in the next few years to adopt climate-friendly farming practices.

Farmworker Wages and Hours:  AB 1066 (Gonzalez), which phases in lower daily and weekly overtime requirements for agricultural workers, was opposed by CAFF but passed the Legislature and was signed by the Governor.  The bill will require agricultural employees, by 2022, to be paid overtime for more than 8 hours work per day or 40 hours per week; farms with fewer than 25 employees will need to comply by 2025.  Currently farm workers receive overtime pay for work in excess of 10 hours/day and 60 hours/week.

Based on the comments from many farmer members, CAFF opposed AB 1066 for several reasons:

  • The bill may result in fewer hours and lower incomes for farm workers, since employers will adjust schedules to avoid overtime.
  • The combined impact of stricter overtime rules and the recent increase in the state’s minimum wage will double the economic impact on farms.
  • No other state has as restrictive overtime rules for farm workers (or as high a minimum wage), increasing the competitive disadvantage of California farms.
  • The state has not yet studied existing data on California farm employment, which could shed light on the impacts of new overtime rules.

California Organic Program:  The Governor signed AB 1826 (Stone), sponsored by CA Certified Organic Farmers and supported by CAFF.  The bill eliminates duplicative paperwork and reporting requirements for California organic farmers and expands the role of CDFA’s organic program.

Seed Labeling:  AB 1810 (Levine) was signed into law after a circuitous route involving several contradictory amendments.  As conceived by the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Assemblyman Levine, AB 1810 exempted informal seed swaps and small commercial seed sales (up to $5,000/year) from the state’s seed labeling laws.  After opposition from the seed industry, the bill was amended to apply only to seed swaps.  But the seed industry also won amendments to impose requirements on seed swaps, such as disclaimer signage declaring the seeds did not conform to state law.   Many of the bill’s original supporters, including seed swap organizations like the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, threatened to oppose the bill unless its original intent was restored.  CAFF’s lobbyist, Justin Malan, was instrumental in forging the final deal that saved the bill.

Beehives:  AB 2755 (Gallagher) increased penalties for the theft of beehives to three times the value of the hives at the time of the theft, plus compensation for the time and money spent by the plaintiff in recovering or replacing the hives.   In addition to CAFF, AB 2755 was supported by the unlikely duo of Sierra Club California and the California Farm Bureau.

Working Lands:  Governor Brown signed SB 1386 (Wolk), which declares as state policy that the protection and management of natural and working lands is an important strategy in meeting the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.  It requires all state agencies and departments to consider this policy when establishing its own policies, regulations and spending plans regarding the protection and management of natural and working lands.  CAFF supported SB 1386 because farmland protection and the adoption of climate-friendly farming practices both will be enhanced by the policy, SB 1386 takes on added importance in light of the state’s newly adopted more aggressive GHG emission reduction goal of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, as enacted in SB 32 (Pavley).

Certified Farmer’s Markets:  AB 2324 (Eggman) enacts modest reforms to the state CFM law, by adding raw sheared wool to the list of agricultural products that may be sold at a CFM; requires CDFA to attempt to keep administrative costs for the CFM program at a minimum; and allows CFM operators to create and keep records of CFM vendors to include information additional to what is required by law or regulation and to require vendors to provide this information as a condition of selling at the CFM.  After amendments to delete requirements that farmers should be the ones keeping information on their farmers’ market sales, the bill passed the Legislature and was signed into law.

In last month’s e-newsletter we mistakenly implied that there had been no obligation on the part of farmers’ markets to collect load lists at the end of the market day until AB 1871 regulations appeared last year. A market manager from southern California pointed out that this requirement first took effect in 2000 and then was amended in 2011 to require product specificity as it appears on the Certified Producer Certificate.

 

For a list of 2016 California Legislative Bills of Concern to CAFF, refer to CAFF’s CA State Legislation webpage.

 

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