June 1, 2020
Legislature to decide the fate of many bills this week
Starting today, Appropriations Committees will hold auction-style hearings to consider hundreds of bills tagged with potential fiscal costs to the state.
At this stage last year, dozens failed to progress, with committee chairs rarely spelling out the reasons why. This year, the committees will see far fewer bills, with most focusing on wildfires, responses to COVID-19 and the economic fallout.
Three bills to watch are on the docket for Assembly Appropriations tomorrow. Assembly Bill 3256 is a climate resilience bond for nearly $7 billion that offers several incentives grants for conservation and climate-smart agriculture practices. Meanwhile, AB 2954 proposes a pathway for including natural and working lands within the next Scoping Plan for California’s AB 32 climate goals. That bill, by Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Hollister, faces opposition from several farm groups.
Rivas is also advancing AB 2043. It would mandate statewide adoption of Cal/OSHA safety guidelines for COVID-19, regardless of county ordinances, while also directing the agency to increase enforcement.
Wineries prepare to reopen tasting rooms
Gov. Newsom has been steadily modifying the stay-at-home order to allow counties to reopen parts of the economy. The Wine Institute has been preparing its members for when the state allows tasting rooms and breweries to reopen.
In an update on Friday, the institute said it is working with the administration on the reopening policy and has been informed “an announcement is likely to come soon.” The Department of Public Health guidance for wineries “will largely reflect” the dine-in restaurant guidance, which requires either six feet of spacing or partitions installed. Wineries may need to check patrons’ temperatures at the door as well.
Remember: Currently, wineries are only allowed to open tasting rooms if they offer dine-in meal service. On top of that, alcohol can only be sold with meals.
A State Ag Board meeting in 2019.
State ag board has a packed agenda this week
The State Board of Food and Agriculture is holding its monthly meeting tomorrow. In just two hours, it plans to hear updates on federal assistance packages as well as the state of water policy in California.
Several produce, dairy and farm groups will discuss the CARES Act and the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
Then Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot will cover the stalled negotiations over voluntary agreements, the escalating drought conditions across the state, and the implementation of SGMA as the state slashes its budget.
Perdue with Food Boxes last week in Pennsylvania
Produce groups reassured after Food Box discussions
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is on the road again today to promote USDA’s $3-billion Farmers to Families Food Box program. Today, he’s in his home state of Georgia for an event delivering food at a non-profit in Atlanta.
USDA has come under criticism for awarding contracts to some companies that were inexperienced in distributing food. The United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association issued a joint statement to the industry after a meeting with the Agricultural Marketing Service to air concerns about the program.
Leaders of the two groups said AMS officials outlined plans for “extensive analysis and audits to verify what is actually taking place under current contracts, which gives us confidence in USDA’s oversight of the program.”
PPP fixes on Senate’s to-do list
The Senate is back in action this week, and one of the first issues to be dealt with in the coming days is expected to be the Paycheck Protection Program.
A House-passed bill would extend the time that businesses and farms have to spend their forgivable PPP loans on payroll and reduce from 75% to 60% the amount of the loan that has to be spent on wages. Even the lower 60% minimum is a concern for senators, as it is for farmers. The American Farm Bureau Federation in a letter to Congress said that payroll expense requirement should be removed.
“Limiting the forgivable portion of non-payroll expenses to 25 percent prevents many farmers and ranchers from participating in this program,” the AFBF letter says.
For more on that issue and the rest of this week’s D.C. agenda, read our Washington Week Ahead.
Trump stirs uncertainty over US ag exports to Honk Kong
The U.S. exports billions of dollars of beef, pork, tree nuts, fruit, beer, pet food and other products tariff-free to Hong Kong every year. But President Donald Trump’s latest announcement on Friday has created uncertainty over the fate of that trade.
“We will have to see exactly what the administration does to see if it will have trade impacts,” AFBF Senior Director Dave Salmonsen told Agri-Pulse.
“I am directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment,” Trump said. He also promised that the U.S. will “take action to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China.”
The U.S. exported about $3 billion worth of agricultural commodities to Hong Kong last year, down from $4 billion in 2018 and $4.2 billion in 2017.
Restaurant industry recovery over a year away
A national non-profit culinary arts organization says it could take restaurants 14-18 months to return to normal operations.
Katherine Miller, vice president of impact for the James Beard Foundation, tells Agri-Pulse Congress will have to provide continued support for the food industry. “When unemployment runs out, when farmers need more aid, when restaurants need more support, our members of Congress are going to hear from us,” she said.
Keep in mind: The Independent Restaurant Coalition is asking Congress to establish a $120-billion independent restaurant stabilization fund.
OSHA in court over worker protections
The Justice Department is defending OSHA’s efforts to protect workers from COVID-19. In a court filing that responded to a legal petition from the AFL-CIO, DOJ says OSHA shouldn’t be forced to take the “extreme” step of setting a mandatory, enforceable infectious disease standard for the virus.
“OSHA — together with countless federal, state, and local authorities — is addressing COVID-19 in a rigorous and comprehensive manner,” the government brief says. “The standards [the AFL-CIO] seeks are largely already mandatory and enforceable either through existing OSHA requirements or the veritable gamut of non-OSHA public safety requirements enacted by federal, state and local officials in response to the pandemic.”
In its filing, the government said it had formally rejected the AFL-CIO’s March 6 petition to the agency seeking an Emergency Temporary Standard.
In a May 18 petition to the court, AFL-CIO said the agency’s refusal to adopt an emergency standard “that would impose mandatory, legally enforceable, COVID-19-specific duties on employers stands in marked contrast to the approach taken by other arms of the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Support from business: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, including the Restaurant Law Group, have filed amicus briefs in support of the government.
He said it:
“A few years back if we would have said the Farm Service Agency could put a program on the ground and have the money distributed in a couple of weeks, people would have thought you were crazy.” – Chuck Conner, a former deputy agriculture secretary and now president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, to Agri-Pulse on USDA’s rollout of CFAP.
Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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