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Conveyor Currents                                    June 7, 2013
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In This Issue
California Legislative Report
Chaotic Week Sets Senate Monday Farm Bill Final Vote
House Leadership Continues to Promise Farm Bill Action
Senate Immigration Bill Set for Floor Action Next Week
GIPSA Grain Inspection Advisory Committee to Hold Kansas City Public Meeting
House Ag Approps Cuts, Restricts CFTC Spending, Bump for FDA
Stabenow Vows to Not Include "Monsanto Protection Act" in Farm Bill
Smithfield-Shuanghui Deal Drawing More Political Attention
California Legislative Report


California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer to Retire from Elected Office


State Treasurer Bill Lockyer announced he will retire from elected office when his term expires in early 2015, forgoing a run for controller next year.   The 71 year old has held elective office for over 35 years and has been the Attorney General, Treasurer and Senate Pro Tem.  


FBI Raids Offices of Sen. Ron Calderon


On Tuesday, FBI agents raided the offices of Sen. Calderon as part of an undisclosed investigation originating in Los Angeles. Agents left the Senator's office shortly after 9:30 PM carrying several boxes of material.  The Latino Caucus, which was also raided, has come under scrutiny in the past for declining to disclose information about donors to a nonprofit entity it controls called the Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation.   The rumors around the Capitol speculate that the FBI is searching for information regarding activities with the Central Basin Municipal Water District and the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. 


Last Friday was the final day that ordinary legislation can pass off the house of origin floor.  There was a legislative scramble to amend controversial bills and bring others up for consideration.  Below are some of the key bills impacting agriculture.


Minimum Wage Increase Passes Assembly


Legislation that would increase the minimum wage and index it to the Consumer Price Index passed the Assembly last week.  AB 10 (Luis Alejo, D-Salinas) will raise the state's minimum wage to $8.25 per hour on January 1, 2014; to $8.75 on January 1, 2015; and to $9.25 on January 1, 2016. Beginning on January 1, 2017, AB 10 will index the minimum wage to the California Consumer Price Index, and prohibits any future reduction in the minimum wage should consumer prices go down rather than up. AB 10 was approved by the Assembly 45-27. The association is working with a coalition of employer groups to oppose the bill. 


Bill Creating New Employee Cause of Action and Extreme Penalties Passes Assembly


AB 263 (Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina) imposes new penalties for employers for committing a series of "unfair immigration-related practices". It includes requesting more immigration documents than required under federal law, using E-Verify in a manner not required by federal law and threatening to contact immigration authorities. Employers would be punished for infractions with a requirement that state courts permanently revoke all licenses possessed by the business for second or subsequent violations of "unfair immigration-related practices," causing all that business' employees to lose their jobs. AB 263 was approved by the Assembly 52-23. The association is working with a coalition of employers to vigorously oppose this legislation. 


Bill Expanding Mandatory Mitigation To be Heard in Assembly Committee Next Week


Legislation that expands the mandatory mitigation for agricultural labor collective bargaining will be heard in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on June 12th.SB 25 (President ProTem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento)expands mandatory mediation from labor agreement negotiations where the parties cannot reach agreement to all future negotiations. It imposes unionization on unsuspecting agricultural employees years or even decades after an initial vote certification and could create the situation that the newly unionized employees never voted for the union

Chaotic Week Sets Senate Monday Farm Bill Final Vote

A Senate schedule turned upside down this week by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D, NJ), a frustrated Oklahoma Senator and an angry Louisiana colleague conspired to block most substantive action on the $955-billion Senate Farm Bill, but these unrelated factors may have accelerated the bill's move to a final vote, now set for June 10 at 5:30 p.m.  At that time, the Senate will consider a single amendment by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D, VT) to expand rural broadband service, and will then turn to final passage of the full Farm Bill.  Nearly 200 amendments will not see action.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV), shut the Senate down for a day and a half this week to allow Senators to attend the Lautenberg funeral and pay their respects as Lautenberg's body lay in state in the Senate chamber.  Reid then filed a cloture motion, approved 75-22, cutting off debate on the Farm Bill.  Reid's cloture motion was supported by a letter from over 120 national, regional and state ag and input industry groups. Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D, MI) patiently listened to Senators demand their amendments be debated and voted upon, whether related to the underlying USDA program bill or not.   


Two amendments were approved earlier in the week. The first by Sen. Jerry Moran (R, KS) would set up a study and pilot program qualifying alfalfa for federal crop insurance, and the second by Sens. Mike Johanns (R, NE) and Chris Coons (D, DE) that would change USDA's international food aid programs by increasing from $40 million to $60 million the amount that can be spent on buying food aid in-country.


Reid publicly acknowledged his ongoing desire to see a finite set of amendments to be voted upon, but that list has eluded Stabenow and committee ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R, MS).  Stabenow told the Senate she and Cochran continued to build a list of amendments they would accept as a package without lengthy debate, and that list is expected to be offered Monday as the bill moves to final passage. Stabenow and Cochran have held to strict standards for amendments, demanding they not substantially modify the committee-passed bill and that they be germane to the Farm Bill.  Stabenow reminded members 34 amendments accepted as part of the 2012 Farm Bill were part of the 2013 effort, and 16 amendments had received floor action this year.


Stabenow withstood Senate procedure lectures from Sen. Tom Coburn (R, OK), who sought to offer several amendments. At one point Coburn was taken aback when Stabenow pointed out the amendment he was demanding is already in the bill.  Coburn was also thwarted each time he brought up one of his amendments by a frustrated Sen. Mary Landrieu (D, LA), who objected to all amendments being offered by the GOP until she received assurance her amendment on expanding the federal flood insurance program would be heard. Sen. Pat Toomey (R, PA) has placed a hold on Landrieu's amendment, and Landrieu finally ended her roadblock. 


House Leadership Continues to Promise Farm Bill Action

The political stage seems set for round two in achieving a new five-year Farm Bill, with the Senate teed up to approve its bill early next week and House GOP leadership continuing to promise full chamber action, likely the week of June 17.  House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R, OK) and ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D, MN) continue to press leadership to allow the Farm Bill to come to the floor under what's called a "modified open rule," meaning only germane amendments to the underlying Farm Bill would be allowed.   


While most observers are expecting a bloody floor fight focusing on cuts to federal food stamp programs, other contentious issues are emerging as well.  House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH), no fan of Farm Bills generally, is waging a personal fight to derail the House bill's reinvention of dairy support programs through creation of a margin insurance program coupled with production controls.  The Boehner move is supported by the dairy processing industry.  In related action this week, the House Judiciary Committee, as part of its pro forma review of the Farm Bill's rulemaking requirements, added language from Chair Bob Goodlatte (R, VA) requiring USDA to conduct studies on the new "dairy stabilization program" as part of its formal rulemaking if the program survives the House floor and the Farm Bill conference committee.


A new battle is emerging over tieing crop insurance to conservation compliance.  The House bill currently does not tie one program's benefits to participation in the other, but a bill this week introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R, NE) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D, CA) - that will become a floor amendment - would require cross-compliance as the Senate Farm Bill does. 

Senate Immigration Bill Set for Floor Action Next Week; House in Disarray


Senators began filing possible amendments to the chamber's comprehensive immigration reform bill this week as floor consideration began June 7. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) set June 11 for a cloture vote to cut off debate on the controversial measure and move to passage.


On the other side of Capitol Hill, the bipartisan House group negotiating its approach to immigration reform lost a conservative member this week as Rep. Raul Labrador (R, ID) defected, announcing he'll write his own bill.  Labrador is frustrated a prospective House agreement would allow undocumented immigrants access to federal health care programs.


In the Senate, Sen. John McCain (R, AZ), a member of the Gang of Eight who drafted the immigration bill, said he's confident there are now 60 votes to cut off debate, and Reid told reporters getting to the magic 60 votes "should be pretty easy."  However, Sen. Marco Rubio (R, FL), the key GOP member of the gang, disagreed, saying the bill is too weak on border security, and that security is the key to winning Republican votes.  Rubio has warned for weeks that unless the border security provisions of the Senate bill meet the high expectations of conservative members when it comes to strengthening and broadening programs the bill could go down in flames.


Sen. John Cornyn (R, TX) moved to beef up the border security section of the bill, unveiling this week an amendment, but some Democrats say the Cornyn proposal goes too far. Cornyn would boost border security spending by $1 billion per year for six years, and authorize 10,000 new border agents over five years.  He also wants to make the path to citizenship for illegal aliens reliant on strict border security measurements, including giving federal agents full control of the border programs and requiring them to catch 90% of all individuals crossing illegally at all points on the border.  His bill would mandate fingerprint scanners and other "biometric" controls at all land and sea ports and full, mandatory implementation of the electronic E-Verify citizenship verification. He also wants the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to submit to Congress a full implementation plan to control the border and cut waiting time at border crossing in half.

GIPSA Grain Inspection Advisory Committee to Hold Kansas City Public Meeting

USDA's Grain Inspection Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) Grain Inspection Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting June 18-19 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The agenda includes an overview of the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) operations-market program, international programs, moisture meter implementation, and an update on the department's biotech proficiency program. The full Federal Register notice, including the agenda and instructions on how to register can be found at


House Ag Approps Cuts, Restricts CFTC Spending, Bump for FDA


The House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on agriculture/FDA this week approved its FY2014 agriculture spending bill, cutting the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's (CFTC) budget by $12 million from the current $206.6 million.  The president had requested $315 million for the commission.


The bill overall sets ag/FDA discretionary spending at $19.5 billion, $1.3 billion less than in FY2013.  Total spending in the bill is $139.5 billion when mandatory spending is factored in. FDA gets a $24-million increase in FY2014, a nod to the agency's pleas it needs significantly more money to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  FDA has pleaded for user fee authority to offset its budget constraints, but so far those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.


The bill restricts CFTC spending on travel and meetings with foreign and other financial regulators, and would require the commission to spend 18% of its budget on new technologies.  The bill further tells the CFTC it must report to "germane (congressional) committees" a timeframe for rulemakings and that all proposed rules carry a cost-benefit analysis.  Democrats on the subcommittee said the cuts would hamstring the commission, with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D, CT), former chair of the subcommittee, calling the spending reduction "appalling."


Stabenow Vows to Not Include "Monsanto Protection Act" in Farm Bill

In a formal Farm Bill floor exchange this week with Sen. Jeff Merkely (D, OR), Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D, MI) promised she would not include in the Farm Bill so-called "Monsanto Protection Act" language, and went so far as to say it would be "inappropriate" for the language to appear in the House-Senate conference report.   


The language in question, included in the expiring FY2013 continuing spending resolution, is designed to protect farmers who have planted legally approved seed, but that seed approval and testing is challenged in court.  Activists contend it protects biotech seed companies, not farmers.   


Merkely said he was going to offer an amendment to the Farm Bill based on his constituents' concerns over recently discovered unapproved GM wheat in one Oregon farmer's field, but agreed to withhold the amendment based on Stabenow's assurance.

Smithfield-Shuanghui Deal Drawing More Political Attention

It was inevitable the acquisition of the U.S.'s biggest pork producer/processor by its Chinese counterpart would draw attention from Capitol Hill, and this week that attention was played out in spades.


Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D, MI) said in a statement released by the committee, she's concerned about the Shuanghui purchase of Smithfield Foods because of "the implications it could have on food safety for American consumers."   


"The (federal) agencies responsible for approving this possible merger must take China's and Shuanghui's troubling track record on food safety into account, and do everything in their power to ensure our national security and the health of our families are not jeopardized," Stabenow said.


Sen. Charles Grassley (R, IA), who last week warned federal agencies he would watch their review of the proposed merger closely, this week said, "I'm also concerned about the impact on consumer choice and the price of pork products," and was joined by Sen. Tom Harkin (D, IA) who warned Shuanghui and Smithfield. "It must be shown that the deal will protect workers, food safety standards and U.S. national interests," Harkin told Reuters. In the same report, Rep. Frank Wolf (R, VA) said he found the deal "troubling."


Smithfield responded: "The combined company will not import any product from China into the U.S.  As a result, the proposed combination does not have any implications for the U.S. food supply."