The farm labor bill sponsored by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., apparently will be voted on by the full House on Wednesday.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association issued a news release late Friday, Dec. 6, saying a floor vote is scheduled for Dec. 11. The association urged members to lobby Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, to support the bill.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 5038, passed the House Judiciary Committee on a near party-line vote of 18 to 12 on Nov. 21.

“Congressman Fulcher remains undecided on this legislation and his vote will greatly impact how Republicans view this legislation in the Senate,” Rick Naerebout, the association CEO wrote.

“We need as many Republican 'yes' votes as we can find in order to demonstrate the urgency and need in rural America to pass this legislation,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, there was a lot of interest in the bill at the National Council for Agricultural Employers annual ag labor forum in Las Vegas on Dec. 4-6, said Michael Marsh, NCAE president and CEO.

Much interest was in the bill’s provision freezing the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) which is the minimum wage for H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers, at 2019 levels for 2020. The bill further limits the AEWR to annual increases of 3.25% or 4.25% from 2021 through 2029 and sets limits and possible elimination beyond that.

NCAE and Wafla, a Washington state farm labor association, have said the AEWR should be terminated now.

“Guys just can’t afford it and are anxious for relief,” Marsh said the AEWR, which increased an average of 6.3% nationally at the start of 2019 and is expected to increase 5.8% in 2020.

NCAE is brainstorming options to stop AEWR and still is on appeal on litigation from earlier this year, he said after the meeting.

Besides limiting the AEWR, the bill seeks to ensure a legal and sufficient agricultural workforce by providing renewable visas for agricultural workers in the country illegally, phasing in mandatory E-Verify (electronic verification of employment eligibility) and amending the H-2A-visa agricultural foreign guestworker program.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking member of the Judiciary committee, says the bill fails to provide long-term stability in setting the AEWR. He faults it for being a path to citizenship for an “unknown number of illegal immigrants (and families) who do some work in agriculture.”

He also says the bill promotes fraudulent visa applications through extremely low document standards and the ability to withdraw a knowingly false application without prejudice.

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