The Department of Pesticide Regulation took heat during a budget subcommittee hearing on Wednesday from Republican Assemblymember Vince Fong of Bakersfield over a proposal to expand its enforcement authority.

The budget item would grant DPR more oversight “if an agricultural commissioner is not fulfilling his or her duties,” according to Julie Henderson. Yet the DPR director offered no specific examples of conflicts with commissioners and said that “it would only be an extreme case where action isn't being taken.” She instead pivoted to her second point for the proposal: that it would allow DPR to pursue “bad actors” across counties.

Fong struggled to understand why DPR would not simply increase the current penalties without expanding its authority if the agency was not having problems with commissioners.

Rushing to DPR’s defense, Asm. Steve Bennett of Ventura was not concerned over the lack of evidence for commissioners failing to enforce laws, but said he felt it could be happening.

Looking for the best, most comprehensive and balanced news source in agriculture? Our Agri-Pulse editors don't miss a beat! Sign up for a free month-long subscription.

But agriculture was still unsettled. California Farm Bureau policy advocate Taylor Roschen said the proposal was not based on an immediate or serious need and noted that farmers have maintained a 98% compliance rate in adhering to pesticide laws and regulations.

The relationship between DPR and commissioners has been fractured since 2020, when the previous DPR director had attempted to wield his authority over the Kern County ag commissioner to convince him to comply with a request from environmental groups.

Lobbying on behalf of farm groups on another aspect of the proposal, Louie Brown pushed back on DPR’s plan to raise penalties to match inflation, reasoning that matching inflation could make sense for fees, but not for penalties.