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Diverse Crop Of Ag Bills Is Sown

Fresno Bee -- E.j. Schultz

It's growing season on the farm -- and in the Legislature too, where an assortment of agriculture-related bills has sprouted this spring.

SACRAMENTO -- It's growing season on the farm -- and in the Legislature too, where an assortment of agriculture-related bills has sprouted this spring.

Lawmakers are pursuing proposals big and small -- from charging new fees on farm-water users to creating a commission to oversee the beekeeping industry -- and they hope to get the bills to the governor's desk by harvest time later this year.

As usual, there will be lobbying battles. Industry leaders are fighting a bill that would make growers pay overtime to farmworkers who work more than eight hours in a day. Farmers are exempt from normal overtime rules today.

And for the fourth year in a row, the United Farm Workers union is pushing a bill that would make it easier for farmworkers to join unions.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed similar "card check" bills in years past, pleasing industry leaders, and is likely to do so again.

The farm lobby is lining up behind other bills, such as one requiring state agencies to buy California-grown fruit and another bill permitting all-terrain vehicles on public roads.

Here's a closer look at some of the legislation:

Wages: SB 1121, by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, would force growers to pay overtime to farmworkers laboring more than eight hours a day. They don't have to pay extra now until after the 10th hour.

Unions: AB 1474, by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would give farmworkers the option of bypassing secret-ballot elections. Instead, they could sign representation cards. If a majority signed up, the state would certify the new bargaining unit. Unions say the current process allows company officials to intimidate workers against joining unions, while farm leaders say it works just fine and allows employees to file complaints.

Nurseries: AB 2695, by Assembly Member Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, would establish the California Nursery Producers Commission, which could levy assessments on nurseries to help pay for research and marketing.

Beekeepers: AB 1912, by Assembly Member Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, would create the California Apiary Research Commission. The commission could levy assessments on beekeepers to pay for research on ways to protect the health of honey bees, whose population is in decline.

Eggs: AB 1437, by Assembly Member Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, supported by the Humane Society of the United States, would require all eggs sold in the state -- not just those produced here -- comply with Prop. 2, a ballot measure that bans small cages for egg-laying hens.

Water: AB 2092, by Huffman, would levy short-term fees on users of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project. Revenues would be used to pay administrative costs of the Delta Stewardship Council, which is charged with creating a plan to fix the beleaguered Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a source of water for west Valley growers.

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