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Governor vetoes several Valley-related bills

Farmworkers and raw-milk dairies are among affected groups.

By E.J. Schultz / Bee Capitol Bureau

Article from the Fresno Bee

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that sought to give more cash assistance to Valley farmworkers hurt by the drought, saying the extra payments would stretch the state's "fragile" unemployment insurance fund.

The veto came late Tuesday as the governor acted on dozens of bills before the midnight bill-signing deadline for the year.

He also rejected a bill by Valley Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, that would have allowed raw-milk dairies, including one in Kerman, to bypass a new bacteria standard that treats raw milk like pasteurized milk.

As expected, the governor vetoed labor-backed legislation that would make it easier for farmworkers to join a union.

Schwarzenegger also rejected a bill supported by environmentalists that would have imposed new fees on cargo entering state ports. The proceeds were aimed at reducing congestion and smog. In his veto message, the governor said the bill was not "cost effective" and "does not adequately provide the San Joaquin Valley with access to funds to reduce pollution." Fresno Mayor Alan Autry had lobbied the governor to veto the bill for that reason.

No extra benefits

The drought bill, AB 1107 by Assembly Member Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, targeted laborers who are working part time instead of full time because of water shortages. The aim was to give these "partially unemployed" farmworkers more money from the state's unemployment insurance fund.

Arambula said the governor owed the bill to farmworkers, who have rallied in support of the governor's proposed water bond to pay for dams and other projects.

"How does he repay them?" Arambula asked. "He denies them the ability to hang on long enough to get through another season."

In his veto message, the governor said: "California is currently experiencing a high unemployment rate that is already stressing the fund and any increase in unemployment benefits further contributes to fund inadequacies."

The state's jobless rate jumped to 7.7% in August, up from 5.5% a year earlier. Fresno County's August rate was 9.7%, and Tulare County's rate was 10.6%.

The state's unemployment insurance account balance is forecast to dip to $598 million by the end of the year. By the end of 2009, the fund is projected to have a deficit of $1.6 billion. In that case, the state would have to borrow money from the federal government to pay claims, said Paul Feist, spokesman for the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

Arambula's bill covered nine counties, including Fresno, Tulare, Madera, Kings and Merced. In one example, if a worker was eligible for $250 in weekly unemployment insurance but worked enough to earn $200 in one week, he or she could still collect the $250 from the state, instead of the $100 benefit available now. The extra benefits would have stopped on Jan. 1.

The governor signed a similar bill last year aimed at helping workers hurt by the freeze. The legislation cost the unemployment account $115,864, according to legislative analysis. Arambula said his bill would have cost less than that.

Union bill vetoed

The governor's veto of the labor-backed farmworker union bill was a victory for industry leaders and a defeat for the United Farm Workers union, which has been stung by union election losses in recent years.

AB 2386, by Assembly Member Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, would have given workers the option of bypassing secret-ballot elections in voting booths. Instead, they could take ballots home and would have five days to mail or deliver them to the Agriculture Labor Relations Board. Industry groups, including some in the Valley, said the process left the door open for labor representatives to influence elections.

Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, said the bill was "an assault on democracy and the rights of farmworkers to cast their union votes in private."

Núñez pushed the bill by citing several recent farmworker heat-related deaths. Workers don't have enough power, he said, and as a result some growers have ignored state rules mandating shade and water.

Raw-milk veto

The raw-milk bill, SB 201, drew support from Organic Pastures Dairy of Kerman, which has pressed the state to overturn its limit of 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter of raw milk. According to supporters, such bacteria can be "friendly," warding off illness. The bill would have allowed dairies to bypass the limit only if they opt into an alternative program requiring state-approved safety guidelines covering everything from milking to grazing.

Schwarzenegger said: "Based on fears with no basis in fact, the proponents of SB 201 seek to replace California's unambiguous food-safety standards for raw milk."

Florez said raw milk and pasteurized milk should be treated differently: "This administration's attempt to use the same standard for both products defies logic and can be taken as an attempt to regulate California's two raw-milk dairies out of business."

The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (916) 326-5541.

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