Picture of Paul Towers

Paul Towers

California legislators get a food & farm report card

As the new legislative year kicked off in January, PAN joined food and farm groups across California in distributing a report card for California legislators, scoring them on their support of food & farming legislation from the previous year. And while nearly half of legislators earned a 100% ranking, the results belie efforts by legislators to advance more transformative policies.

A collaborative effort

I had the great opportunity over the past year to facilitate phone calls with dozens of state and local organizations identifying food and farming bills, collectively ranking them, finalizing and, eventually supporting a joint process of report writing.

The resulting scorecard and legislation tracker are a product of the California Food Policy Council, the California Food & Farming Network, (a group I help coordinate) and Roots of Change. These groups represent some of the diversity of California: working across urban & rural areas, affluent and poor, from issues of school food to farmworker protections, CalFresh benefits and farmland protections. As you might imagine, the process to identify priorities across this many organizations was fraught with healthy conflict.

food tracker brochure

Yet, disappointingly, many bills weren’t even introduced or heard in committee, citing the lack of possibility for moving them forward. Such legislation included fees on sugary beverages, school siting in agricultural areas, incentive payments for growers to reduce pesticide use and others. 

President of Roots of Change, Michael Dimock shared,

We remain hopeful based on the steady increase in legislators voting with our coalition each year. But we also remain perplexed by the Legislature’s lack of focus on the many fundamental food and farm challenges that impact public health.” 

Digging into the details

Here are some key factoids for the twenty priority bills tracked:

  • 55 legislators (nearly half of all legislators) scored 100% on the scorecard
  • Governor Brown vetoed just one bill we tracked (8% veto rate, compared with 12% veto rate last year for all bills overall)
  • 65% (13 of 20) bills tracked were passed in their first year.

Two legislators were specifically acknowledged for their leadership over the past year: Senator Mike McGuire (District 2) led efforts to provide school meals for low-income children (SB 138), and provided critical support for fire-affected farmworkers and farmers, while Assemblymember David Chiu (District 17) protected undocumented workers, including farmworkers, at job sites (AB 450) and supported better labeling to reduce food waste (AB 954).

Senator Mike McGuire

But it’s the people and their stories behind these statistics and bill numbers, and how these policies will be implemented, that are the real reason this work matters.

Passing legislation is only the half-time show, with lots of work left to ensure implementation of these policies. And it’s only midway through the two-year legislative session — there’s time left to see additional, truly transformative policies across the finish line. Some of the legislative topics we expect to emerge over the next year include cannabis, water access for farmers, water quality for environmental justice communities, fire resilience and home kitchen entrepreneurs.

Photos: Joan Cusick Photography

Picture of Paul Towers

Paul Towers

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