Dome of the California State Capitol building. (Photo: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock)

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

Legislators in California introduced 2,124 bills in Feb. — 1,505 in the Assembly and 619 in the Senate — which are being considered by their respective houses until May 24. While the main points of focus this year seem to center around artificial intelligence and public safety, several pieces of agricultural legislation from pesticide regulations to amending the Williamson Act are circulating.

AB 2528 – WILLIAMSON ACT

The Williamson Act has been a crucial contract in protecting half of California’s farmland by preventing its development. Since its inception in the 1980s, the Williamson Act holds roughly 16 million acres under the contract, preventing agricultural land from premature or unnecessary urban development.

By allowing local governments to enter into contracts with landowners, farmland is able to remain farmland without interference from developers until the contract’s expiration after nine years.

Assembly Bill 2528, introduced by Democratic Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula would allow landowners within the Williamson Act to cancel their contracts for areas of land that lack sufficient water without waiting nine years or incurring a fee if the land is used for wind or solar energy projects.

The bill has been contentious among different agricultural groups with some such as the California Farm Bureau opposing it for the risk of permanently losing open spaces and agricultural lands.

Other groups such as the Western Growers Association and the Almond Alliance spoke in support of the bill, citing that the contract cancellation offers landowners alternative economic opportunities for lands that would likely sit fallowed for 10 years until the contract is up.

AB 2528 was passed by the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture on April 24.

AB 3056 – REFORMING AG OVERTIME

Following a recent study from UC Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics on the negative effects of AB 1066 on farmworkers, Republican Assemblymember James Gallagher introduced AB 3056 to reverse the ‘unintended consequences.’

According to the study, AB 1066 — a bill that requires overtime pay for farmworkers who work more than 40 hours a week — unintentionally led to reduced hours for farmworkers and thereby significantly decreased their earnings.

Gallagher’s new bill, AB 3056, proposes an adjustment to the farmworker overtime requirement, mandating overtime pay for employees working more than 50 hours in a workweek instead of 40 hours.

The bill failed to pass in its first hearing in April, but a reconsideration was granted.

AB 1963 – PARAQUAT BAN

Introduced by Democratic Assemblymember Laura Friedman, AB 1963 would prohibit the use, manufacture, sale, delivery, holding, or offering for sale in commerce of any pesticide product containing paraquat.

The California Farm Bureau opposes the bill as it bypasses the scientific review process products must undergo for removal from the marketplace.

The next hearing on AB 1963 will take place on May 8 at 9:30 a.m.

AB 828 – WETLANDS EXEMPT FROM SGMA

Democratic Assemblymember Damon Connolly introduced AB 828 — a groundwater pumping exemption — to grant managed wetlands a three-year exemption from the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Under AB 828, wetlands and small disadvantaged communities would be able to use their average annual water usage without the “excessive fines” implemented under SGMA.

In contrast, growers that utilize groundwater in the Tulare Lake Subbasin will be charged $300 annually per well and $20 per acre-foot of water.

The bill passed out of the Assembly and is moving toward a hearing with the State Senate.

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