The California Citrus Mutual team was in Sacramento this week to meet with legislators on a myriad of subjects. The recent passage of the transportation/gas tax bill was the undercurrent of many conversations about agriculture’s irrelevance to the majority party. CCM’s Joel Nelsen and Alyssa Houtby met with Assembly members Jacqui Irwin and Jim Cooper, two moderate democrats who are solid supporters of the citrus industry, separately during the trip. In both meetings, their message was clear – agriculture has to be united and must reevaluate its approach if it hopes to be a recognized force in California politics and policy. Clearly, what we’re doing (or not doing) isn’t working. Our message to them was to expect a different tone from agriculture going forward. That message was well received.
As the Governor swiftly signed his transportation package, which is expected to generate $52 billion in the next decade, California citrus is fighting for $10 million from the State General Fund for the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program’s (CPDPP) efforts to stop the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) and Huanglongbing (HLB). Staff met with members of the San Gabriel Valley Legislative Caucus, a bipartisan and bicameral body comprised of members whose districts include portions of the San Gabriel Valley, where we continue to find HLB in residential citrus trees. Several offices agreed to share information about the issue with constituents via social media, newsletters, and town hall meetings. Moreover, the caucus members were asked to join with several other urban and rural members in signing onto a letter to the Senate and Assembly budget committees requesting a budget allocation for the ACP/HLB program. That letter is gaining momentum and has received signatures by a majority of members.
The neonicotinoid bill (SB 602) continues to make its way through the Senate. As reported in last week’s legislative update, Senator Allen has amended the bill by striking out the restricted use language – meaning the product will continue to be available for residential use. Nevertheless, CCM remains opposed to the bill as it would require any plant or seed sold at retail to carry a label that states, “WARNING: May Harm Bees.” The science simply does not support this claim, nor does such a label actually provide any substantive information to consumers.
SB 602 passed out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, as expected, and it is now eligible for a vote by the Senate. CCM staff met with many members on this issue and informed them that according to this bill, nearly every citrus tree sold at retail in 24 counties under quarantine for the Asian citrus psyllid would have to carry this label. Furthermore, the bill creates significant liability for nurseries to frivolous private right of action lawsuits under the Unfair Business Practices Act. This means that a plaintiff’s attorney could file a lawsuit against a business that somehow fails to comply with the very specific labeling requirements of the bill without having a client. This is a terrible bill, but fortunately for our case, most legislators are opposed to private right of action.