The Legislature is back to work after a near two-month hiatus following the statewide shelter-in-place order in response to COVID-19. Now, the legislature is moving forward in expedited fashion (and with appropriate social distancing!) to not only pass a budget by June 15th, but also to uphold some semblance of a public policy process.
The Governor and Legislature are working to craft a budget in the face of a $54 billion deficit and an impending economic recession. Nevertheless, the legislature is considering budget and policy proposals that will have significant cost implications for agriculture and businesses. The State Water Resources Control Board, for example, is requesting to increase its budget and staff, which in turn will result in increased fees on permit holders. This is particularly alarming for the agricultural industry that is already struggling due to COVID-19, facing decreased water supply allocations and simultaneous implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Additionally, the legislature will consider a proposal that would require the California Air Resources Board to rework its Cap and Trade climate policy. Not only does this proposal completely undermine a years-long rulemaking process, it will certainly increase the cost of energy and transportation fuel for residents and businesses.
Budget negotiations will continue through the weekend. The legislature is under a statutory deadline to pass a budget by midnight on Monday, January 15 to pass a budget. CCM is engaging in the process and collaborating with like-minded organizations to communicate to legislators that now is not the time to be increasing costs on businesses.
On the legislative side, Senate and Assembly leadership asked members to reduce the total number of bills, and in a big shift from the norm, each policy committee is expected to hold just one hearing, rather than the multiple hearings.
Several bills have been introduced to extend Workers’ Compensation coverage for COVID-19 cases beyond what is required under Governor Newsom’s Executive Order which created a rebuttable presumption that employees who tested positive for COVID-19 during a specific timeframe, became infected through their normal course of work.
Of particular concern is Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 196 which would create a permanent and conclusive presumption that an employee working in an essential industry who tests positive for COVID-19 on or after March 20, 2020 became infected at the workplace. CCM supports efforts by the insurance companies to achieve a balanced solution that protects employees without subjecting employers to higher Workers’ Compensation costs.
The UFW is seeking to undermine a Court ruling on the compensability of travel time for employees who utilize employer-provided transportation. SB 1102 (Monning) would require H-2A employers to provide to workers a written notice supplied by the Labor Commissioner that contains specified information relative to the H-2A employee’s rights to pursue and to Federal and State law.
Buried in the bill, however, is a single sentence that would have significant impacts to H-2A employers and FLCs. “H-2A employees must receive compensation at their regular rate of pay for time spent while being transported by the employer or its agents from the housing provided by the employer or its agents to the employer’s or agent’s worksite.”
CCM is working with a number of other Ag associations to get the bill amended to reflect that travel time deemed voluntary by the employer is not compensable time or be removed entirely from the bill.
SB 86 by Senator Durazo would require DPR to submit quarterly reports containing information on granular chlorpyrifos use, monitoring, and exposure during the quarter. Senator Durazo authored legislation last year to ban the use of chlorpyrifos ahead of the cancellation process, but stalled in the committee. The current version of SB 86 narrowly targets granular chlorpyrifos, which was not cancelled. We are working with are partners in the registrant and pest control industries to communicate why this bill is not needed and to counter unsubstantiated claims against the products’ risk to public health.
Another election year, another water bond? That remains to be seen. In today’s economic and political climate, the appetite for any bond initiative is questionable. Even the Governor has signaled that he will not support a bond proposal given the state’s anticipated budget shortfall. Despite this, the Senate and Assembly are continuing to move forward with their respective bond proposals.
While the proposals, Senate Bill 45 by Senator Allen and AB 3256 by Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia, are broader than water and include funding for various “climate resiliency” projects, each contain provisions that could provide critically needed funding for the protection of California’s water supply and agricultural lands. The funding could support projects that consistent with the priorities of the Water Blueprint effort. Both proposals are moving forward in their respective houses, but would have to be signed by the Governor in order to be put before voters in November