Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Hollister plans to work with growers and other stakeholders on bills, bond measures and informational hearings to address issues on several fronts, especially drought.
“When you talk about the impacts of this drought and the tremendous pressure that this industry and growers are facing, certainly we need to do everything we can to support them,” Rivas, who chairs the Assembly Agriculture Committee, said at the Agri-Pulse Food and Ag Policy Summit West on Monday. "How we respond to that is incredibly important.”
Earlier in the year, Rivas sought to deliver pandemic relief through a $3.1 billion food and ag bond proposal for the November 2022 ballot. This and several other bond efforts were then put on hold as the budget outlook grew stronger, according to Rivas, who suggested he may return to the measure next year.
“The motivating factor behind our bill was really to focus on agriculture, focus on the future of agriculture, focus on creating a resilient food system,” he said. “We saw major disruptions to our food system amid the pandemic.”
Rivas pointed out that some of the provisions in the bill and in other proposals for climate resilience bonds have been included in the current budget. When asked if funding for water storage could have a role in a future bond measure, Rivas worried investments in water “are going to outweigh the emphasis in other parts of the bill.” He added that the state must do “a better job in administering those funds” from previous measures, referring to the Proposition 1 water bond voters approved in 2014.
In discussing his measure for granting agricultural workers access to the state’s stockpile for N95 respirators, Rivas explained how he has been engaging with industry to reach a compromise on the bill.
“I have no intentions of impacting the industry in a negative way,” he said.
While that measure has been progressing through the Legislature with broad support, another that was also related to wildfires was pulled before the first committee hearing. The measure would have made grazing on public lands more accessible, offering another tool to mitigate the spread of fires.
“This idea really came from the county of Sonoma, when we visited with the farm bureau there,” explained Rivas. “We got a lot of resistance from environmental groups, like the Sierra Club.”
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He held the bill in committee to buy time to reach out to those environmental interests, offering to tour these lands with them to see the opportunities presented in the bill.
“It's all-hands-on-deck, in my opinion, in how we mitigate the impacts and severity of these incredible wildfires,” he said.
As the 2021 legislative session winds down, Rivas is planning more informational hearings for the Agriculture Committee that focus on drought impacts to the industry. For the next session starting in January, he hopes to revive a 2020 bill that offered a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to offset the costs of agricultural overtime wages, with the aim of keeping California agriculture competitive.
“As the first state in the nation to have an overtime law,” said Rivas, “we've got to account for the impact it's going to have to the industry.”
Rivas has also requested a $1 million allocation in a future budget trailer bill to address the threat of the plant pathogen known as INSV, which “is really wiping out the leafy green industry” in his Salinas Valley district.
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