The Assembly and Senate have cleaned their houses of old bills ahead of the summer lull in the Legislature. Critical deadlines for approving fiscal measures and advancing bills out of their house of origin have sent hundreds of proposals to the wastebin.

Appropriations committees voted on more than a thousand bills this month, blocking 320 from advancing, according to Chris Micheli, a lobbyist tracking the action. In a flurry of floor sessions last week lawmakers then passed out about 1,400 bills in all, volleying them to the other house for further debate. About 61% of the total bills introduced in the Assembly have survived, while the Senate has maintained about 75%.

Nearly 200 of the total bills this session are related to agriculture. Of those, the most noteworthy to die in committee this month was Assembly Bill 2528, which divided farm groups. It proposed to ease the penalties for canceling Williamson Act conservation easements when converting fallowed farmland for large-scale solar development. Backing the measure, the Western Growers Association reasoned it would provide farmers with alternative economic opportunities while maintaining the value of the land.

While a few farm groups locked arms with solar trade associations in support, the California Farm Bureau stood in opposition over concerns that relaxing the rules for cancellations could weaken the Williamson Act, the most powerful tool for protecting farmland from urban development.

The farm bureau, on the other hand, backed a measure to add aerial drones to the list of agricultural equipment eligible for clean air grants. Assemblymember Gregg Hart of Santa Barbara claimed it would help farmers “access innovative tools that contribute to cleaner air and align with the state’s climate objectives to reduce emissions.” The bill garnered unanimous support in its first hearing and had no opposition. The Air Resources Board (CARB), however, estimated it would have required the addition of two staff members to update the website and program documents. With the state attempting to rein in a massive deficit, the agency analysis served as a death sentence for the bill.

The farm bureau, along with the California Association of Winegrape Growers, also supported a Republican measure aiming to help agencies make better regulations. Senator Roger Niello of Fair Oaks wanted to establish a regulatory counsel in the governor’s office to assist in drafting agency regulations. Niello said that writing clear regulations is no easy task for untrained staff.

The state drafts more than 600 regulations each year, and the Office of Administrative Law often rejects proposals due to a lack of clarity. Legislative analysts estimated Senate Bill 1104 would have cost the state millions of dollars each year to establish and maintain the program.

Despite the losses, food and farm groups are breathing a sigh of relief for contentious proposals that have died for the year.

In the world of water policy, battles are constantly waged over the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the rivers flowing into it. The latest was an effort to elevate the role of tribes in California’s water laws to better protect cultural and subsistence practices.

Irrigation districts cried foul, claiming the real intention of the legislation was to block a set of voluntary agreements brokered with the Newsom administration that propose to soften the regulatory blow of cutting farm diversions. The State Water Resources Control Board calculated AB 2614 would saddle the state with more than $10 million in ongoing expenses.

In the area of federal food regulations, state lawmakers have grown restless with FDA’s sluggish pace and proposed their own bans. Bills this session are riding on the success of a 2023 measure that critics panned as a “Skittles ban,” before amendments dropped the most controversial ingredient from the prohibition list.

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This year Asm. Eloise Gómez Reyes of Colton hoped to ban the use of methylene chloride in decaffeinated coffee. The National Coffee Association contended that no scientific evidence exists connecting decaf coffee to negative health impacts. Reyes amended the bill to instead require a warning label for the coffee, and it was later reduced to a study bill on the issue.

AB 2577, meanwhile, proposed new regulations restricting “sell by” dates on food products in favor of “best if used by” or “use by” labels in the hope of reducing food waste in landfills. Asm. Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks attempted similar legislation last year without success, and this year her bill made even less progress.

In the air quality realm, Asm. Corey Jackson of Moreno Valley has pushed for stricter standards in California’s most polluted regions. AB 1857 would have required CARB to take over management of air districts overseeing basins with valleys and to adopt its own regulations for improving local conditions.

A trade group for air pollution control officers argued the bill would slow progress in combating bad air in the San Joaquin Valley. It instead pushed for maintaining funding for FARMER, a program for upgrading older agricultural equipment with newer, low-emission models. CARB pegged the costs at $21 million and claimed it would require at least 90 new staff.

Several bills relating to labor issues this session have raised concerns among business coalitions, with agricultural employers among them. While labor interests have held strong sway in the Legislature and few of the bills have faltered so far, Assembly Appropriations prevented the passage of one bill advocating for “the right to disconnect.”

AB 2751 would have prevented employers from emailing, texting or calling workers outside of business hours, except during emergencies. The California Chamber of Commerce called the bill “a step backwards for workplace flexibility” and said it failed to account for the uniqueness of industries like agriculture.

Following the fiscal reckoning of the appropriations committees, lawmakers flooded floor sessions last week with hundreds of bills and little debate on those measures, with all but a handful making it across the finish line by Friday afternoon.

Policy committees are gearing up for more four-hour hearings in the coming weeks to dive deeper into the details on the surviving proposals. More amendments will come, more compromises will be struck, and more bills will hit the cutting room floor in the months ahead.

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