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Recap of the California Farm Bureau 2019 Ag Issues Update

The Agribusiness Committee Hosted a Successful and Informative Agricultural Issues Update Highlighting Key Legal Issues Affecting the Agricultural Sector

Callie L. Lindemann, Esq.
Baker Manock & Jensen, PC

Agricultural labor, wildfire issues, the future of utilities, water quality, endangered species, and legislative updates were the key topics covered by the legal staff of the California Farm Bureau Federation at its 2019 Ag Issues Update on February 8, 2019.

There were over 20 attorneys from across the state in attendance at the session, which began with Jim Houston providing a legislative update including information on the results of the recent election, the State budget, the safe and affordable drinking water bills being considered by the Legislature, new taxes and regulations affecting agriculture, consideration of new labor standards for agricultural workers, and Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) updates.

Carl Borden presented selected issues affecting agricultural employers. He addressed the requirements of Assembly Bill 1066 that repealed agricultural worker exemptions for meal periods, a day of rest, and overtime pay. He discussed the phase-in schedule for minimum wage and overtime requirements. Mr. Borden also briefed the group on the Dynamex Operations Vest, Inc. v. Superior Court case, where the California Supreme Court imposed a new test to identify if a worker is a contractor or an employee. He further elaborated on the case of Troester v. Starbucks, where the California Supreme Court held an employee must compensate employees for small amounts of off-the-clock work time.

Kari Fisher presented updates about water quality issues in the State, including the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Programs and updates to the federal Clean Water Act. She discussed the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) policies regarding nonpoint sources and antidegradation and the litigation surrounding the East San Joaquin Waste Discharge Requirements. She updated the group on the CV Salts program and settlements of SWRCB Office of Enforcement threats regarding nitrates in drinking water.

The update from Justin Fredrickson, Environmental Policy Analyst, addressed Senate Bill (“SB”) 617 from 2011-2012. Mr. Fredrickson emphasized this legislative tool is underutilized and requires a standardized regulatory impact analysis under the California Administrative Procedures Act. The law requires agencies proposing major regulations to assess the potential for adverse economic impacts to avoid unreasonable regulations. Legal actions brought under this rule may help increase administrative efficiency and provide a solid economic baseline knowledge of the impact of proposed regulations.

The effect of wildfires on utilities and energy was covered by Karen Norene Mill, including SB 901. SB 901 provides $200 million in annual funding for five years for forestry management and fuel reduction in addition to regulatory streamlining for fire, thinning, and fuel reduction projects, and the creation of a new Small Timberland Owner Program for landowners with less than 100 acres. Ms. Mill also discussed the impact of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s bankruptcy filing, its potential impacts to California energy, including hydropower projects, and community choice aggregation as an alternative to power generation in local communities.

Jack Rice provided an update on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) and ESA issues. He gave an overview of where some of the overdrafted subbasins are at in the SGMA process and what to expect next. Mr. Rice also explained that federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are seeking comments on proposed reforms to improve and modernize the federal ESA on issues including the clarification of factors to consider for listing decision and to designate critical habitat. He also discussed newly listed species under both the federal and California ESA and petitions under current consideration. California is currently considering listing bumble bees and certain butterflies, among other species, as endangered species.

Chris Scheuring finished the day with a discussion of water rights and land use issues. Of particular importance are the recent challenges by the California Farm Bureau Federation, and other parties, to the SWRCB’s recent amendment of the 2006 Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary focused on San Joaquin River flows and southern Delta salinity.

Overall, it was a very informative day with lots of interesting topics and discussion.

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