July 31, 2020
Bill targeting the granular form of chlorpyrifos advances
Los Angeles Senator Maria Elena Durazo, a former labor leader, argued yesterday the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is not doing enough to protect farmworkers. She said the granular form of the insecticide chlorpyrifos is still poisoning children despite DPR restrictions and the Newsom administration’s ban on the more widely used forms.
Her bill, SB 86, would require DPR to submit quarterly use reports on the granular form directly to the Legislature. United Farm Workers, a co-sponsor of the bill, labeled CDFA Secretary Karen Ross as “dangerous” for negotiating an exemption on the granular form under the ban.
In a committee hearing yesterday, policy advocates for agriculture and Republican assemblymembers took issue with the bill and the many statements about farmers.
Representing citrus and several other trade groups, Lauren Noland-Hajick walked the committee through the many safety precautions required for applying the product. Taylor Roshcen of the California Farm Bureau added that this bill could lead to invalid reports due to a rushed process and cost DPR resources and funding.
The committee passed the measure.
Asm. Bill Quirk of Hayward donned a gas mask and visor while leading the committee hearing on chlorpyrifos. Quirk is one of several lawmakers in the most vulnerable age group for COVID-19.
Bill on H-2A worker rights raises new arguments
A bill aimed at informing H-2A guest workers of their housing and labor rights passed another committee this week. Following a new amendment, the measure also requires ag employers to notify the visiting workers of rights to certain lighting equipment for night work.
Industry policy advocates took issue with the bill requiring employers to pay for travel time to the job site. Mathew Allen of Western Growers said this would change state law by mandating voluntary travel time be compensated. He also called SB 1102 “extraordinarily problematic” in granting tenancy rights to employees, since employers must provide that housing under the H-2A contract.
The California Farm Bureau’s Bryan Little listed the ways employers are already required to notify workers of their rights.
The committee passed the measure.
An expansion on paid family leave is gaining support
Senate Bill 1383, a measure to expand paid family leave to 12 weeks, passed a critical committee this week. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara introduced the measure after the Legislature decided to pull it from the budget package last month and debate it publicly. The measure was introduced last year but failed in the Legislature.
Jackson argued the bill would help workers at a critical time. The California Chamber of Commerce and the Restaurant Association feared it would “devastate” small businesses. The measure was changed from targeting businesses with 50 or more employees to businesses with five or more.
In opposition, Republican Heath Flora, who represents part of the San Joaquin Valley, spoke from personal experience when he said that starting a business in agriculture involves tight margins and just five or 10 employees.
Proponents dismissed concerns the bill would hurt small businesses or lead to more litigation against employers.
FDA releases new protocols for treating water to prevent foodborne illnesses
FDA and EPA have developed a new protocol to guide companies in registering antimicrobial products for treating water used in farm irrigation systems.
“This is a big, big deal, and it's a major milestone for produce safety,” said the FDA’s top food safety official, Frank Yiannas, in a press call yesterday.
The work stems from collaborations with CDFA, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and an industry taskforce. It follows an investigation that found cattle grazing nearby to be the most likely contributor to an E. coli outbreak last year in romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley.
Boozman vows accountability toward USDA on COVID-19 payments
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., in line to be Senate Ag’s top Republican in the next Congress, says he will hold USDA accountable for how it spends future COVID-19 payments to producers.
“Certainly, we’re going to hold their feet to the fire and make sure that these dollars are going to be spent in the way that was broadly outlined with the language we finally come up with,” Boozman told Agri-Pulse.
Boozman did commend USDA for being able to roll out programs in a matter of weeks compared, noting some farm bill programs can take years to implement.
Legislation would make all students eligible for school meals because of pandemic
A new bill introduced Thursday by Virginia Democratic Rep. and House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott would make all students eligible for free school meals in the upcoming academic year.
The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act also would allow schools and non-profit community partners to operate meal services, including after-school meals and snacks, and allow meals to be available for students learning remotely through “grab-and-go” or meal delivery.
The bill, co-sponsored by 16 Democrats, is endorsed by a wide variety of groups, including the School Superintendents Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Feeding America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Biden, Espy to talk rural diversity efforts with farmer panel
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will be joined by a former USDA leader today to chat about the ag and rural components of his racial equity plan.
Mike Espy, an ag secretary during the Clinton administration who is currently running for the Senate in Mississippi, will join Biden and a handful of producers and ag stakeholders for a panel discussion today.
Biden’s plan includes a pledge to address “longstanding inequalities in agriculture,” including forming a farmland assistance program “to assist in both the purchase of farmland and the ability of Black, Brown, and Native farmers to keep that land.” There’s also provisions to increase rural broadband spending and boost research funding at historically black colleges.
Take note: Biden also pledges to “appoint officials at every level of the USDA who have a demonstrated commitment to supporting Black, Brown and Native farmers” and “eliminate the USDA’s backlog of civil rights complaints.”
Stabenow adamant on food assistance increase in coronavirus bill
The Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Democrat is insisting the next coronavirus relief bill contain more money for food assistance.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., says she’s had conversations with Chairman Pat Roberts and another top committee Republican, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., on the subject.
“They are open, I’ve had good conversations, but no commitments,” Stabenow told Agri-Pulse, referring to the talks.
“We’ll need to see if we can come to an agreement,” Boozman told Agri-Pulse. “A lot of our conference is open and looking; we don’t want people going hungry.”
Stabenow is calling for a 15% increase in maximum benefit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and a boost in the minimum monthly benefit from $16 to $30, which is also in the HEROES package passed by the House in May.
He said it:
“None of these people that were in support come from the rural communities—none of them. And that's who is going to get just hammered.” — Asm. Heath Flora on the sponsors of SB 1383
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