Bills tackle organic enforcement, milk rules, processor licensing fees

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO -- Several agriculture bills have cleared the Legislature, and have either gone to the governor's desk or are waiting to be sent. Among them are:

* AB2686, by Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, would shorten the legal process county agricultural commissioners use to enforce organic produce standards. Agriculture commissioners support it, as do rural counties. The bill attracted no opposition, sailing through the Capitol on unanimous votes.

* AB1910, by the Assembly agriculture committee, went to the governor on Aug. 16. It would set rules on selling repasteurized milk as market milk. The bill would also add obstacles to the state paying into the milk pool, from its Milk Producers Security Trust Fund, to cover defaulting handlers. CDFA would need to exhaust all legal and administrative avenues before covering a handler's missed payment. The bill is supported by dairy interests. It cleared the Legislature on unanimous votes.

* SB1303 by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would extend through January 2014 a provision under the California Endangered Species Act that exempts farmers from penalties if their normal agricultural activities kill protected species. The rule is set to expire next Jan. 1.

* AB2240, by the Assembly agriculture committee, would authorize the agriculture department to rework the schedule of licensing fees levied on processors of farm products. Higher fees are needed because increasing costs have caused the department's Market Enforcement Branch to run deficits, according to an Assembly analysis. The restructuring would be based on current operating costs, and the agriculture secretary could appoint a committee, composed of producers and processors, to advise the process.

* AB1912, by Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, would create the California Apiary Research Commission. A $1-per-colony assessment on beekeepers would raise the estimated $2 million it would take to run the commission, according to legislative analyses. The California State Beekeepers Association supports the plan, intended to help control bee losses such as those experienced in the past few years because of colony collapse disorder.

* AB2695, by Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, would create a California Nursery Producers Commission to run outreach, education, promotion, marketing and research regarding nursery products. The commission would be funded through an assessment on the state's 600-odd producers.

Bills for the current session must be passed by both houses of the Legislature by Aug. 31.

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