2021 California Food Legislation

by Beth Kent*

            The California State Legislature is back in session, and legislators have introduced a number of bills related to food and agriculture. Many of these bills address food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of bills focus on sustainable agriculture, including phasing out pesticides and protecting agricultural lands. Governor Newsom’s proposed Budget also includes funding for a new approach to pesticide regulation that aims to catalyze the transition to safe and sustainable agriculture.

This is the beginning of the legislative cycle, and bill text and budget priorities are subject to change, but it is exciting to see so many bills that address food and agricultural issues. You can track your bill priorities here, and we will provide an update at the end of the session that summarizes the bills that are passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor.

Food and the Environment

  • AB-350 (Villapudua) would create a grant program to help landowners in the San Joaquin Valley’s “critically over-drafted basins” meet the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s water use reduction goals.
  • AB-352 (Rivas) proposes amendments to the California Farmland Conservancy Program to make the program more accessible to low-income, diverse, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
  • AB-391 (Villapudua) proposes appropriating $5 million from the Department of Food and Agriculture’s General Fund to provide technical assistance and grants to incentivize participation in state and federal conservation programs that integrate pollinator habitat and forage on working lands.
  • AB-567 (Bauer-Kahan) proposes expanding pesticide regulations to prohibit using neonicotinoids (a type of insecticide that is especially harmful to bees) on seeds and makes the use of neonicotinoids a misdemeanor.
  • AB-1086 (Aguiar-Curry) would require the California Natural Resources Agency to develop an implementation strategy to achieve the State’s organic waste, and related climate change and air quality, goals. The implementation strategy may include recommendations on policy and funding support for the beneficial reuse of organic waste.

Nutrition and Food Security

  • SB-364 (Skinner): Introduced by Senator Skinner and co-authored by Senators Eggman, Hertzberg, Laird, Limón, McGuire, Hueso, Newman, Wieckowski, and Wiener and Assembly Members Berman, Carrillo, Chiu, Cooley, Cooper, Cristina Garcia, Eduardo Garcia, Levine, Nazarian, Quirk-Silva, Reyes, Robert Rivas, Rodriguez, Santiago, Stone, and Villapudua, SB-364 proposes to establish a California Universal School Meal Program, which would continue to make school free breakfast and lunch programs available to all children beyond the COVID-19 public health crisis. It would also establish the Better Out of School Time (BOOST) Nutrition Program to prevent child hunger when schools are not in session.
  • AB-221 (Santiago, Chiu, and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Santiago, Chiu, and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Assembly Members Burke, Carrillo, Cristina Garcia, Gipson, Grayson, Kamlager, Luz Rivas, Stone, and Villapudua and Senators Rubio, Dodd, Durazo, and Wiener, AB-221is an urgency statue that would make food assistance benefits available to low-income California residents across the State, regardless of their immigration status. The bill also commissions a study to identify permanent solutions for low-income food assistance programs to address food insecurity throughout the State.
  • SB-108 (Hurtado) would declare that every human being has the right to access sufficient healthy food and require state agencies to revise and adopt policies accordingly.
  • AB-941 (Bennett and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Bennett and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Senators Limón and Dodd and Assembly Member Medina, AB-941would establish a grant program to create farmworker resources centers. Resource centers would provide farmworkers and their families information and access to services related to education, housing, payroll and wage rights, and health and human services.
  • AB-1009 (Bloom) would establish the Farm to School Food Hub Program, which would incentivize the creation and permanency of farm to school hubs. Hubs would function as nonprofit aggregators and supply chain intermediaries to distribute food products from farms or ranches to public institutions and nonprofit organizations. The goals of the program are promote food access and to increase the amount of agricultural products available to underserved communities and schools.
  • SB-20 (Dodd) would increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/CalFresh Benefits for low-income community college students by requiring the Student Aid Commission to notify students of their CalFresh eligibility. These requirements are intended to educate students about the availability of CalFresh benefits and to help address food insecurity among low-income community college students.
  • AB-543 (Davies): Introduced by Davies and coauthored by Dodd, AB-543 would require California universities to provide information about CalFresh to all incoming students as part of campus orientation.
  • AB-508 (L. Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez): Introduced by Assembly Members Luz Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez and coauthored by Assembly Members Kalra, Bauer-Kahan, Boerner Horvath, and Eduardo Garcia, AB-508 would expand school meal programs by requiring school districts and county superintendents to provide free meals for students who are eligible to receive reduced-priced meals.
  • AB-558 (Nazarian) would create the California School Plant-Based Food and Beverage Program, which would provide reimbursements to school districts that provide plant-based options as part of free and reduced-price school meal programs. This bill could have positive health and environmental benefits by increasing access to plant-based food.
  • AB-368 (Bonta): Introduced by Assembly Member Bonta and coauthored by Assembly Members Chiu and Wicks, AB-368 would establish a pilot program to provide prescriptions for medically supportive food. Eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries could receive vouchers to redeem specific foods that can alleviate or treat medical conditions, such a diabetes and hypertension.

*Beth Kent is an Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law for 2020-2022. She earned her J.D. from UCLA School of Law with a specialization in Public Interest Law & Policy from the Epstein Program, and she actively participated in UCLA Law’s environmental and food law programs.

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