California State Capitol building

Ag Alert September 18, 2019. Rreprinted with permission from the California Farm Bureau Federation

By Kevin Hecteman, Assistant Editor Ag Alert

A hectic week for the state Legislature ended with welcome news for California farmers and ranchers—Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he intends to veto Senate Bill 1, which sought to preserve existing California environmental and labor standards from federal changes initiated by the Trump administration.

Water-related provisions of the bill proved problematic for farmers, ranchers and water agencies. For example, SB 1 would apply the California Endangered Species Act to the federally operated Central Valley Project. That provision threatened negotiations to establish voluntary settlement agreements concerning water flows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems into the delta.

In a statement, Newsom said that though he supports the goals of SB 1, the bill does not “provide the state with any new authority to push back against the Trump administration’s environmental policies and it limits the state’s ability to rely upon the best available science to protect our environment.”

The bill—carried by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego—cleared both houses of the Legislature shortly before it adjourned for the year early Saturday.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson praised the governor’s intention to veto.

“We appreciate Gov. Newsom’s decision on SB 1,” Johansson said. “From the beginning, the governor has listened to the solutions offered by farmers, ranchers and their communities. Vetoing SB 1 allows those communities to continue on a collaborative path that will result in a long-term water future that facilitates economic growth and ecosystem protection and restoration.”

Earlier, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 5, which Newsom has indicated he supports. AB 5 would require employers to reclassify as employees many people now working as independent contractors.

The bill, from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, codifies a California Supreme Court decision last year. In that decision, in a case known as Dynamex v. Superior Court, the high court came up with a three-part “ABC” test for determining whether someone is a contractor or employee.

An employer seeking to turn back a claim of misclassification has to prove that A) the worker is free from the employer’s control and direction in the course of work; B) the worker carries out duties outside the employer’s main line of business; and C) the worker does the same or similar work for other people as well as the employer.

Bryan Little, CFBF employment policy director and chief operating officer of CFBF affiliate Farm Employers Labor Service, noted all three parts of the test must be met. He said the largest impact from AB 5 would likely be among businesses on which farmers depend to move crops to market, such as truckers, or other support professionals such as registered professional foresters, whom timber producers depend on during harvest activities.

“Our analysis of AB 5 indicates it does not impact the common agricultural practice of farmers hiring farm labor contractors to perform short-term work on farms for cultivation, harvesting and other important activities,” Little said. “However, we are concerned about a variety of other support activities that may be impacted, like independent owners and operators of trucks who move harvested commodities. There is wide discussion of another cleanup bill in the 2020 session, and we’ll be looking for another opportunity to solve those problems.”

The Legislature unanimously passed AB 417, a CFBF-sponsored measure creating a new position at the California Department of Food and Agriculture for a rural economic advisor. The advisor would take on issues such as broadband connectivity, economic productivity, agricultural education, trade and quantifying economic impacts of state laws and policies, including the localized impacts of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The bill, from Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Delano, has moved to the governor, who has until Oct. 13 to act on legislation sent to him.

CFBF Administrator Jim Houston said he’s excited about passage of AB 417.

“For the first time in recent memory, there’s going to be a person at the Department of Food and Agriculture who is looking at the economic implications of various policies on the rural and agricultural communities,” Houston said, adding that CFBF looks forward to working with the new advisor and others to see that legislators would have accurate data on which to base decisions.

“Agriculture is the primary economic engine of rural communities,” Houston said. “Understanding the impacts to agriculture is going to be first and foremost.”

On the broadband front, AB 488, which would add the CDFA secretary to the California Broadband Council, also reached the governor’s desk. Houston said CFBF supports the bill because of the importance of broadband access for rapidly emerging agricultural technology being deployed on farms and ranches. AB 488 is from Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters.

Another Gonzalez bill, AB 1066, didn’t clear the Legislature in time and became a two-year bill, meaning it could come back up next year. The bill sought to make striking employees eligible for unemployment insurance.

A pair of bills seeking to change plastics recycling in the state also landed on the two-year-bill list. AB 1080 and SB 54 would have required a certain percentage of plastics to be recyclable, expanded to encompass all packaging. Houston said CFBF wanted to ensure farmers were not affected, because the bills were aimed at people with the resources and capacity to design packaging.

“If I’m just packaging to send to the processor, that’s not really single-use,” Houston said. “We wanted to make sure that was articulated as well.”

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