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in the KNOW

September 19, 2014

Groundwater Legislation Signed into Law

After Governor Jerry Brown signed the groundwater legislative package into law on September 16, Ag Council released the following statement.

“Ag Council is disappointed the legislature and the governor did not provide an opportunity to develop groundwater legislation in a collaborative manner that would have created the best package possible, similar to the efforts undertaken to pass the water bond,” said Ag Council President Emily Rooney.

“The bills signed by the governor today create an enormous amount of uncertainty by calling into question existing water rights and property rights. Our organization has significant concerns about the legislation, including its very short implementation timeframe,” Rooney said.

“The process under which the legislature approved groundwater legislation was severely flawed given that it was confusing, rushed at the end of the legislative session and lacking in transparency with last-minute amendments to very complex bills,” Rooney said.

Ag Council supports local, groundwater management that addresses groundwater basins in chronic overdraft. Unfortunately, the legislative package signed by Governor Brown establishes a massive bureaucracy at every level of government that could stifle the agricultural economy and California’s ability to grow and produce food, as well as cost millions of dollars to implement.

Given the signing of the bills, Ag Council will actively engage in implementation of the measures, keeping in mind the rights and protections needed to sustain the agricultural community in California.

“We are hopeful for a more collaborative process through the development of the necessary regulations required for implementation of the legislation. This is where the real work begins to ensure that the outcomes make sense for all Californians,” said Rooney.

Ag Council Opposes Proposed Fee Increases for Waste Discharge Permits

Ag Council submitted comments on September 18 opposing the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) proposal to increase water quality fees under the Waste Discharge Permit Fund. The SWRCB will consider fee increases for this program at a board meeting on September 23.

Ag Council opposes the proposed fee increases and is greatly concerned about the lack of stakeholder input regarding the funding process for this program.

The proposed fee increases will impact Combined Animal Facilities (CAF), which affects California dairies, and the fee increases will impact the Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) program utilized by many Ag Council members. At this time, a fee increase is not proposed for the irrigated lands regulatory program. However, this could change next week and an increase could be proposed.

Another concern detailed in Ag Council’s comment letter is that stakeholders have not been included in the discussions related to the funding of programs and potential fee increases during the SWRCB’s budgeting process. Given this, Ag Council asks that the SWRCB establish stakeholder advisory committees to work with staff on budget projections and the development of fee schedules.

To read the entire comment letter from Ag Council, click HERE.

Ag Council will attend and speak out against the proposal at the SWRCB meeting on September 23 in Sacramento. We encourage other interested members to attend, as well. Meeting information and the SWRCB agenda is available HERE (see agenda item number eight).

Labor Bills Await Action by Gov. Brown

Three onerous labor measures opposed by Ag Council are awaiting Governor Brown’s consideration, and he has until September 30 to sign or veto the bills on his desk. Given that the bills will negatively impact the agricultural community, Ag Council has formally requested a veto of the following measures.

AB 1897 – Expanded Liability for Labor Contracting 

AB 1897 invokes liability for wage and hour violations for those who contract labor. The bill author is Assemblyman Hernandez (D-West Covina). The California State Legislature approved AB 1897 at the end of August.

Under the bill, any entity that obtains or is provided labor from a labor contractor is liable for:
• the payment of wages to the contractor’s employees
• all contributions, including tax contributions
• worker’s compensation coverage and OSHA requirements

AB 1897 is an unprecedented expansion of liability against innocent parties and increases litigation against those entities using contractors as part of their usual course of business. Current law already protects against unlawful contracting practices and abuse of contracted labor.

Ag Council opposed AB 1897 throughout the legislative session this year. Given the many concerns with the bill, Ag Council and others have asked Governor Brown to veto AB 1897. He has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill.

SB 25 – Denies Due Process
SB 25 by Senator Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was amended during August and subsequently passed by the legislature. The new bill raises the standard of proof for a stay of an administrative order by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) to “clear and convincing evidence” of “irreparable harm” and “likelihood of success.” This denies due process to ag employers given that ALRB could enforce an administrative order before a court has undergone a review of that order.

The legislature approved SB 25, and it is awaiting consideration by the governor. Ag Council and many other ag groups have asked Governor Brown to veto SB 25.

AB 1792 — Publicly Shames Employers
The legislature passed AB 1792, by Assemblyman Gomez (D-Los Angeles), at the end of the session. AB 1792 publicly shames employers by requiring California employers, with over 100 employees enrolled in Medi-Cal, to be listed online.

The listed employers could be subject to liability, protests, and media attacks. At the same time, the public would not have a full understanding of all costs borne by employers.

Given the absurdity of AB 1792, Ag Council opposed this measure. Unfortunately, it was approved by the legislature, and Ag Council joined with others to ask Governor Brown to veto the bill.

If you are an Ag Council member and have any questions about these or any other state legislative measures, please do not hesitate to contact Ag Council at ph. 916.443.4887.