A bill to prohibit foreign governments from purchasing or leasing agricultural land in California was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom Tuesday.
Senate Bill 1084, authored by Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), would have prohibited a foreign government from purchasing, acquiring, leasing, or holding an interest in agricultural land within the California. The bill would also exempt land held by foreign governments before January 1, 2023, from that prohibition, and would have specified that it does not apply to federally recognized Indian tribes or their government units and enterprises. In addition, SB 1084 would have created yearly reports by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to list how much agricultural land is still owned by foreign governments and what recommendations are.
Senator Hurtado authored the bill, also known as the The Food and Farm Security Act, due to concerns over a growing food crisis, helping secure farm land for future food supplies for California and the US, ending drought profiteering, defending the food supply chain, and protecting limited water resources for agricultural use. According to Hurtado and the US Department of Agriculture, 2.7% of all of California’s agricultural land is currently owned by international owners, with the amount growing each year.
“People should be concerned about the growing global food crisis we are in. A crisis marked by increased famine, increasing food shortages and increasing food costs, due to extreme weather and drought,” said Senator Hurtado earlier this year. “Drought profiteering is exacerbating this crisis in California putting a disturbing number of family farmers out of business–leaving Californian’s with more food insecurity and contributing to global famine. Californians take pride in feeding the nation and world, and the Food and Farm Security Act will protect and preserve our agricultural land and help prevent further devastation to food markets. Now is the time for action.”
While there was some concern by Democrats over the bill earlier this year due to the concerns of the legalities in barring certain land buyers based on nationality, as evidenced by an earlier Senate vote in May where 9 Democrats abstained from voting, SB 1084 wound up being largely bipartisan.
“Everyone had something at stake here,” said agricultural policy advisor Tom Lopez to the Globe on Wednesday. “A lot of districts in both houses have strong agricultural ties, so regardless of party, they did it to help protect farmers, food, and water. Republicans were also very protectionist of the bill, with many Democrats, especially those in cities, worried about long-term effects of food supply issues and water. Add to that many districts with strong Latino ties worried about a possible reduction of migrant farm workers due to less farms needing them due to them being under foreign control, and you get most of California in favor of this bill. Everyone had a stake in it.”
Newsom vetoes SB 1084
In August, besides a few Democrats still holding out and abstaining, SB 1084 passed the Assembly 75-0 and the Senate 37-0, with the bill widely being expected to be signed by Governor Newsom. However, on Tuesday, Newsom vetoed the bill, noting in his veto message that the information compiling part of the bill is beyond the purview of the CDFA and would create more difficult responsibilities as a result.
“I am returning Senate Bill 1084 without my signature,” wrote Newsom. ” Federal law requires foreign governments to report interests in agricultural land to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and USDA compiles this information annually into a public report. The additional data reporting required by this bill is beyond CDFA’s purview and would create new and arduous responsibilities for the department. For these reasons, I cannot sign this bill.”
Newsom’s veto upset many who had been counting on the bill to protect the food supply chain and water control in California, with many fearing that foreign control will now only increase in the coming years.
“Protecting California’s agriculture land and food supply chain is fundamental to our survival, yet Governor Newsom’s veto jeopardizes California farm land and leaves it vulnerable to foreign control,” said Senator Hurtado in a statement on Wednesday. “My bill would have helped California maintain our strong agriculture industry and allow us to remain resilient, even during times of global unrest or international conflict. If foreign actors were to gain control of our land and water, the results could be devastating – we could see food shortages, water profiteering and even higher prices at the grocery store. It’s a risk we can’t afford.”
My bill would have helped California maintain our strong agriculture industry & allow us to remain resilient, even during times of global unrest or conflict. If foreign actors were to gain control of our land and water, the results could be devastating.https://t.co/mVjcOY79LH
— Senator Melissa Hurtado (@Senator_Hurtado) September 28, 2022
“Newsom vetoed the bill for a petty reason, a very minor reason,” added Lopez. “I don’t think he knows the damage that this will ultimately do.”
As of Wednesday, it is currently unknown if a revised version of the bill will be tried again next session.
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