NEWS & ISSUES

42nd Annual Ag Boosters Barbecue

The Ag Boosters 42nd Annual Barbecue supporting Ag One and California Women for Agriculture (CWA) will be held Sunday, September 8th at Borba Ranch in Madera, CA. The event begins at 4 p.m. and dinner will be served at 5: 30 p.m. In addition to the chance to win a fantasy vacation of your choice, attendees will be able to participate in a live and silent live auction. The event directly benefits students and programs in the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State. In addition, CWA is able to promote California agriculture through education, legislative programs, and providing scholarships. The deadline to purchase tickets is August 30th and can be purchased online at www.agonefoundation.org. For more information, please see the attached flyer or contact the Ag One Foundation at (559) 278-4266.

Event Flyer

HIGH HEAT ADVISORY

Another high heat advisory warning has been issued by the National Weather Service for Thursday, July 26, 2019 and Friday, July 27, 2019 for parts of Central Valley counties.  Employers must have an effective Heat Illness Prevention Program and procedures in place on the steps to take during high heat temperatures.  Procedures for shade must be made available at all times and in place when the temperature is 80 degrees or above.  Employers should encourage employees to frequently drink water throughout the work shift and encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. High heat procedures include documented daily tailgate meeting when the temperature is 95 degrees and above to review the high heat procedures, encourage employees to drink plenty of water – at least 1 quart per hour the entire shift, remind employees of their right to take a cool-down rest when necessary. Other requirements include observing employees for alertness and signs or symptoms of heat illness.  Prevention of heat illness is crucial, ensure supervisors are effectively trained on emergency procedures and signs and symptoms of heat related illnesses.

Passing of Wallace Houchin

WALLACE HENRY HOUCHIN
June 10, 1932 – July 18, 2019

With great sorrow we announce the passing of Wallace Henry Houchin on July 18, 2019 at his cabin on Greenhorn Mountain. He was 87 years old.

Wallace was born June 10, 1932 in Bakersfield, California to parents Lester Hugo Houchin and Mother Gertrude Gilson Houchin. In 1950 he graduated from the Black Fox Military Academy in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of California, Davis. In 1952 Wallace was drafted into the United States Airforce and served in the Korean War as a F-86 Fighter Pilot. After returning to California, Wallace met the love his life, Janice, and they were married in 1956. They eventually settled in Bakersfield where they raised their children.

Wallace was a successful entrepreneur and businessman who greatly shaped and influenced the agriculture industry. In 1959 Wallace became the president of a family crop finance and cotton ginning operation, which he expanded with the help of his brothers Clifford and Donald to include Buttonwillow Ginning Company, Buttonwillow Warehouse Company, Tech Ag Financial Group, Tech Ag de Mexico, Mission Ag Resources, and Elk Grove Farming LLC. Wallace was actively involved in organizations such as The California Cotton Growers Association, California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors, and the National Cotton Council. He was especially proud of his 46-year service as president of the Buena Vista Water Storage District, where he had the foresight to help craft major water policy for the San Joaquin Valley that is still relevant today. Wallace’s hobbies included playing dominos with his “oil buddies,” playing golf with “lunch buddies” at Stockdale Country Club, taking pictures of friends and family, and his thirst for knowledge on all topics. Wallace also enjoyed spending his Sundays attending and greeting members at First Presbyterian Church.

Through all his accomplishments, Wallace’s number one priority was his wife and best friend, Janice, who he loved deeply and referred to as a “looker and a cooker.” Wallace and Janice enjoyed traveling to many places, but their favorite was always Carmel, California, where they spent their honeymoon and visited every year for over 50 years to celebrate their life together. Wallace and Janice also loved spending time at their little cabin, the “Bear’s Lair,” on Greenhorn Mountain. We thank Wallace for being a true hero and leading his family through this life with honor, integrity and love. There will never be another like him.

Wallace is survived by his wife, Janice; his children, Vicki Houchin, Chris Houchin, Steve Houchin and his wife Laura, and Joan Houchin; brother, Donald Houchin and his wife Patti; sister, Diane Houchin; sister-in-law, Shirley Houchin; and his grandchildren: Britain and David Houchin; Steven Houchin; Nicholas Houchin and his wife, Emily; Caroline Siegel; Steven and Kelsie Bowden. Wallace was preceded in death by his brother, Clifford; daughter Jill Bowden; and granddaughters Christennie and Devonnie Houchin.

Our family would also like a thank Dr. Ray V. Matthews, Dr. David Daugherty, and Dr. Tommy Lee for the outstanding medical care they provided to Wallace.

Services will be held at First Presbyterian Church, located at 1705 17th Street, Bakersfield, California on Thursday, July 25 at 12:00 p.m. A reception will follow at Stockdale Country Club, located at 7001 Stockdale Highway, Bakersfield, California.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in memory of Wallace Houchin to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital Foundation, 420 34th Street, Bakersfield, California, 93301, attention to Ken Keller.

For Condolences, please visit: www.greenlawnM-C.com Greenlawn Funeral Home Northeast

Cal/OSHA STANDARDS BOARD APPROVES EMERGENCY WILDFIRE REGULATION

Cal/OSHA Standards Board has approved the emergency protection of workers exposed to wildfire smoke.  This standard applies to workplaces where the current Air Quality Index (AQI) of particulate matter reaches 151 or greater and where employers should reasonably anticipate that employees could be exposed to wildfire smoke.  The regulation will be effective for one year and expected to be effective in August. The Standards Board will file the regulation with the Office of Administrative Law, which has 10 working days to review and approve as a new standard enforced by Cal/OSHA.  Under the new regulation, employers must check the AQI during fire season for PM 2.5 in areas where workers are located; reduce employee exposure to wildfire smoke, i.e. move employees to an outdoor area where AQI for PM 2.5 is lower than 150 or relocate employees to an indoor work area with filtered air; if this is not feasible, voluntary use respirators are to be provided – such as model N95s, with training on the health effects of wildfire smoke and the safe use plus maintenance of respirators.  Cal/OSHA will hold a public advisory meeting in Oakland on August 27th to adopt permanent regulations.

California Cotton Industry Loses a Legend

It is with deep sadness that the Association announces the passing of longtime cotton industry legend Larry Gallian, who passed away on July 1th at the age of 75.  Larry was born in 1943 in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.  He moved to California when he was 4 years old.  He graduated from Redwood High School in 1961 where he played basketball and baseball.  He started his “cotton career” in 1964 driving a spreader truck for Visalia Co-op Gin.  He became the assistant manager of the gin and in 1983 became the manager of operations, where he served until 2006 when Visalia Coop Gin closed its doors.  He then became a Pest Control Advisor for Nutrien in 2007 until his passing.  Larry served on the Board of Directors for the California Cotton Ginners Association from 1985 until 2007, and was the Chairman of the Board in 1990-1991.  Larry was honored with the Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 2006 for his commitment to the Association and the entire cotton industry.  He was heavily involved in the activities of the Association and served at different times on the Executive, Legal and Legislative, Annual Meeting, Joint Steering, Energy, Gin Waste Utilization and Political Action Committees.  Larry is survived by his wife of 55 years, Paulette, and his two daughters Niki and Traci, as well as his two brothers Terry and Gary, along with numerous nieces and nephews.  In lieu of flowers the family requests that all memorial contributions be made to the City of Woodlake Parks and Recreation Department to support Larry’s love for youth sports.  Donations may be dropped offed or mailed to:  City of Woodlake, 350 N. Valencia Blvd., Woodlake, CA  93286.  A celebration of life will be held on Sunday August 4th. From 12-4 pm at the Visalia Elks Lodge located at 3100 W. Main St in Visalia, California.

Legislature Passes Utility Wildfire Response Bill

Legislature Passes Utility Wildfire Response Bill

Below is an update on the Utility Wildfire Response Bill courtesy of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association (AECA). 

This morning California Assembly provided the final legislative approval of a complicated bill responding to recent utility caused catastrophic wildfires, with a vote of 63-8. After several months of legislative hearings and debate, the Governor’s office and a handful of legislators revealed the lengthy bill last Friday. Legislators acted quickly to comply with the Governor’s self-imposed July 12th deadline in hopes that the legislation would prevent another credit downgrading for the state’s two major Investor Owned Utilities that are not currently in bankruptcy.

The lively debate on the Assembly floor recognized the cost implications to ratepayers. Several members, including the authors of the bill, committed to work with the Governor on follow up measures that would help to mitigate the impacts of rising electricity rates on agricultural and industrial ratepayers.

The bill now awaits signature by the Governor. Almost immediately after the bill’s passage by the Assembly, the Governor issued a statement thanking and congratulating the legislature on their work on the issue.

AB 1054 (Holden, Burke, Mayes)

Summary:
AB 1054 includes numerous provisions related to addressing wildfires caused by utility infrastructure:

  • Bolster safety oversight
  •  Recover costs from damages to third parties
  • Establish a shareholder/ratepayer jointly funded wildfire fund to address future damages
  • Provide utility employee protection
  • Limit ratepayer exposure to PG&E liability during bankruptcy

Safety Oversight:
AB 1054 requires the state’s three main investor owned utilities (IOUs), PG&E, SCE AND SDG&E to make $5 billion in aggregate safety investments (system hardening) without return on equity that would otherwise borne by ratepayers.

The measure also establishes the California Wildfire Safety Advisory Board (CWSAB), consisting of seven members to advise and make recommendations related to wildfire safety for both IOUs and public owned utilities (POUs).

Recovery of Costs:
AB 1054 seeks to clarify the current “prudent manager” standard used to determine whether a utility can recover costs arising from a covered wildfire. The measure allows cost recovery if the costs and expenses are determined just and reasonable based on reasonable conduct by the electrical corporation. It considers factors both within and beyond the utility’s control, including humidity, temperature, and winds.

Wildfire Fund:
AB 1054 establishes a Wildfire Fund to pay eligible claims arising from a covered wildfire. The fund will be jointly funded by utility shareholders and utility ratepayer’s utility shareholders will contribute $7.5 billion initially and an additional $3 billion over 10 years ($300 million per year) to the wildfire fund. Ratepayer contributions will include a non-bypassable energy usage charge of $0.005 (half cent/kWh) for 15 years to securitize $10.5 billion for the wildfire fund. The total charge equates to $13.5 billion (or roughly 900 million a year). Farming and food processing’s share of the $13.5 billion is expected to total roughly $1 billion over the 15-year period.

The measure requires utilities (shareholders) to repay monies to the fund when they are found imprudent with limits. Ratepayers will have no obligation to repay monies in the fund.

The measure limits insurance subrogation of liability to the fund, to not exceed 40% in utility caused fires where the utility acted prudently.

Utility Employee Protection:
AB 1054 expands employee protection measures to include the sale of all or a material portion of the assets of the electrical corporation, including the voluntary or involuntary change in ownership of assets to a public entity (municipalization). The successor employer is required to maintain all wages, hours, and other benefits for three years for all employees.

PG&E Bankruptcy:
AB 1054 requires PG&E to resolve all pre-bankruptcy claims and achieve a CPUC approved reorganization plan that is both consistent with the state’s climate goals and renewable portfolio standards and determined to be neutral to the ratepayers of the IOU. In other words, PG&E shareholders are responsible for all liability claims from 2017 and 2018 wildfires, a liability estimated at approaching $30 billion.

Analysis:
While the measure is far from perfect and costly from a ratepayer perspective, it appears to be a vast improvement over SB 901 enacted last year that left ratepayers exposed to significant liability costs. Under the current situation ratepayers are exposed to significant costs associated with California’s strict liability standard for utility caused wildfires. Ratepayers are also currently exposed to significant costs relating to IOU credit rating downgrades due to wildfire risk that significantly increase utility borrowing costs. Finally, PG&E ratepayers are currently exposed to liability costs resulting from the PG&E bankruptcy, which under AB 1054, become the sole responsibility of PG&E shareholders. AB 1054 limits ratepayer exposure to $13.5 billion and ensures utility shareholders are picking up a portion of liability moving forward.

Fiscal Impact:
$0.005/kWh (half cent) for each kilowatt used for the next 15 years. This money will be refunded to the ratepayers if not used for wildfire liability.

Indirect Fiscal Impacts:
Ratepayers, including farming and food and fiber processing operations, will also face ongoing rate impacts associated with system hardening and wildfire mitigation efforts moving forward. However, at least $5 billion of these costs will not include the normal IOU ROE, which results in significant net savings of approximately $2.5 billion. Ratepayer exposure to increased costs of borrowing are also reduced. Finally, ratepayer exposure under strict liability is limited to $13.5 billion statewide.

CCGGA Tours Tulare Lakebottom Area w/ DPR Director Val Dolcini

The California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association (CCGGA) along with other agricultural associations had the unique opportunity to tour the Tulare Lakebottom area with Val Dolcini. Dolcini is the current Acting Director of the California Department Pesticide Regulation as well as the Deputy Secretary for Agriculture at the California Environmental Protection Agency. The tour included critical discussions surrounding crop protection tools, primarily the use of chlorpyrifos on cotton and possible alternative solutions once it is no longer able to be used. On part of the tour, Acting Director Dolcini and Director of Regulatory Affairs, Jodi Devaurs were able to join others in a helicopter tour of the J.G. Boswell ranches. During this segment of the tour Acting Director Dolcini was able to get a visual as to why the current 40 and 80 acre application limits for chlorpyrifos are simply not feasible or sustainable in an integrated pest management system. In addition, the group was able to discuss the importance of aerial application along with the science, technology and testing that is put into place to ensure aerial applications are done in the safest and most responsible manner to minimize drift. Thank you to Lakeland Dusters Aviation, J.G. Boswell Company as well as Hronis Ranch for hosting the tour. Other agricultural associations that participated in today’s tour were Western Agricultural Processors Association, California Agricultural Aircraft Association, Western Plant Health Association and the California Fresh Fruit Association. The Association has been heavily engaged with Acting Director Dolcini, as well as with CDPR and CalEPA, on the many issues surrounding crop protection tools and cotton, today’s tour was an excellent opportunity to back up the numerous conversations that had been had and will serve as an important tool as we move forward in discussions.

HEAT ILLNESS PREVENTION TOOL KITS

Temperatures have been warming up and heat illness prevention remains at the forefront!  WAPA has available Heat Illness Prevention Tool Kit to carry in your supervisors or foreman vehicles.  The kit consists of a rugged plastic folder with tabs and materials inside. The kit includes: Heat Illness Prevention Training Guide, Safety toolbox talks, Heat Illness cards, Heat Illness Prevention Poster, Urine color chart, and Tabs for your heat illness prevention policy, emergency numbers, and address/field maps as required by the heat illness standard.  Contact our office for more information (559) 455-9272 or visit our website www.agprocessors.org.

Valley Agribusiness Job Fair | August 1, 2019 – Fresno, CA

The California Center for International Trade Development at State Center Community College District is hosting the Valley Agribusiness Job Fair on August 1, 2019 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Fresno Convention Center. This is a convenient opportunity for employers to meet face to face with job seekers in one location. To register or for more information visit www.fresnocitd.org/jobfair or call (559) 243-7280. Please see the attached flyer below for more information about the event.

Event Flyer

UPDATE: Social Security Administration Confirms They Will Take NO ACTION for Employer’s Who Do Not Comply with No-Match Letters

UPDATE: Social Security Administration Confirms They Will Take NO ACTION for Employer’s Who Do Not Comply with No-Match Letters

 By: Michael C. Saqui and Gregory Blueford

As we previously reported, in conjunction with Chris Schulte of CJ Lake, LLC and Rob Roy of Ventura County Agricultural Association, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) began mailing Educational Correspondence (“EDCOR”) notifications to employers who submit at least one 2018 W-2 with a SSN mismatch or no-match. These notices differed from previous mismatch/no-match letters as they did not include names or SSNs. Instead, employers were only notified that they submitted W-2s with mismatched SSNs and the raw number of W-2 forms the employer submitted that do not match.

The key question that employers had been asking about receiving these letters was, naturally, “What action should I be taking?” There were differing opinions on what steps employers are required to take, one of which was to recommend that employers follow the direction of the EDCOR letter and login to the SSN Business Services Online portal to get the actual names of the employees at issue and take steps to verify the reason as to the mismatch of specific employees.

Taking a more employer-centric approach, Dowling Aaron, CJ Lake, LLC and VCAA put our collective mind power, legal experience and resources together and took the complete opposite approach, recommending that employers should NOT login to the BSO portal and only verify their own records in-house and report to the SSA based on those records.

Yesterday, we received word that our recommendation was correct. In a letter from SSA Acting Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill to Congressman Jim Costa, the SSA confirmed that the EDCOR mismatch letters are only educational in nature and that the SSA will not take any action, nor are there any SSA-related consequences, for employers’ non-compliance with the EDCOR mismatch letters.

COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:

The SSA’s letter to Congressman Costa is attached here for your full review. As outlined in the original guidance from Dowling Aaron, CJ Lake, LLC and VCAA, employers should take the following steps when receiving EDCOR mismatch or no-match letters:

*  Employers should NOT login to the BSO to get the actual names of mismatched employees to avoid the possibility of establishing constructive knowledge that the employer was hiring unauthorized workers;

*  Employers should, at very most, only take the following steps:

–   Review the names and SSN information submitted by the employer to SSA;

–   Provide any necessary corrections to SSA on the Form W2-C within 60 days of receiving the no-match, and/or;

–   Respond to SSA that the employer has confirmed that the names and SSN information provided match the information provided by its employees.

*   Take no further action and to not retain the letter in your files.

The SSA further confirmed in their letter that they are not sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security/ICE and are specifically forbidden to do so under the law and that there are no immigration or work-authorization conclusions to be drawn from the letter.  Among the other interesting tidbits in the letter is that the SSA has mailed out 577,349 letters as of April 26, 2019 which covers the mismatches for tax year 2018 and that the SSA will mail out the remaining letters in the fall. Thus, employers should expect a second wave of these letters coming out later this year.

Again, employers should only check their own records for accuracy and should NOT login to the BSO system. However, if employers do receive mismatch/no match letters that do specifically identify employees, there are different requirements that must be undertaken, which are outlined in our original recommendation.

Thank you again to Chris Schulte of CJ Lake, LLC and Rob Roy of Ventura County Agricultural Association for their hard work and assistance on this matter. Contact The Saqui Law Group, a division of Dowling Aaron Incorporated should you have any further questions on this issue or receive a mismatch/no match letter which specifically identifies employees.