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Monday, July 28, 2014

CA cattle bills have ranchers cheering

by Mark Mendiola - WLJ Correspondent

— Bills toughen theft penalties, address trucking issues

As beef producers cope with the Golden State’s worst drought on record, enactment of two bills sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) gave ranchers something positive to welcome and cheer.

Gov. Jerry Brown on July 16 signed into law legislation that strengthens penalties against cattle theft and allows long semitrailers to use a stretch of state highway that will give livestock producers and auctions more latitude in shipping cattle.

Justin Oldfield, CCA Government Affairs Vice President, said the governor signed the bills ahead of schedule. Both will take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

The innovative cattle rustling bill will strengthen penalties against those convicted of stealing livestock and prevent anyone convicted of such charges from holding a registered cattle brand in California for five years.

“We’re hoping tools like this will help deter folks from doing this in the future. So far everybody is excited about the bill. It’s certainly a good bill,” Oldfield told the Western Livestock Journal.

“Cattle theft is certainly an issue. In California, it’s more of an issue since cattle prices have risen. We definitely still have folks out there still doing this. Unfortunately, they often are members of the industry and repeat offenders.”

Those convicted will be required to submit to more frequent inspections by the California Bureau of Livestock Identification. Fines of $1,000 per incident also will be imposed. A significant portion of those fines will be directed to the bureau to help fund state brand inspectors who will investigate cattle theft cases in conjunction with local law enforcement.

Inspections will occur any time cattle are sold, moved or transported after five years from the time of conviction at the individual’s expense.

“There are not a whole lot of people going to jail,” Oldfield said, noting that California prisons are over-crowded, and certain crimes warrant state prison while others get perpetrators incarcerated in county jails. “It’s a challenge to get the right punishment.”

CCA President Tim Koopmann praised California Assembly member Frank Bigelow, (R-O’Neals), for authoring the cattle theft legislation. The latest cattle theft bill builds on another one drafted by Bigelow and signed by Brown last year.

“We hope that together these bills will help deter thieves and implement tougher consequences that will further protect our livelihoods and our ranches from criminals,” Koopmann said.

The other bill signed by Brown on July 16 and sponsored by CCA extends an existing exemption that allows 48-foot livestock semitrailers to operate on Highway 101 in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Otherwise, livestock producers and auction markets in those counties would be severely restricted from shipping cattle to buyers outside the North Coast region. All such semi-trailers fall under an existing California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) prohibition to travel through Richardson Grove State Park.

It is the eighth bill CCA has sponsored to ensure the exemption remains in effect until roadway improvements in the park are completed to allow all 48-foot trailers to legally operate on Highway 101. The latest version of the bill includes provisions that align the exemption with completing the roadway improvements rather than carry a five-year sunset clause as in the past.

The CCA praised Assembly member Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) for drafting the livestock trucking bill. California lawmakers are in summer recess, but are likely to adjourn session in mid-September following the recess.

“This exemption is for livestock trucks so ranchers aren’t stranded,” Oldfield said, noting the issue has pitted environmentalists against state government because of the growth of redwoods in the area.

Onerous bills dealing with antibiotics for livestock were kept in committee. Another bill allowing more judicious uses of antibiotics is supported by CCA, he mentioned.

The overriding issue drawing the most legislative attention and controversy in California is groundwater regulation and whether the state will overstep its bounds regulating scarce groundwater, Oldfield said.

“The effects of the drought will get worse as the summer goes along,” he said.

It has been estimated that of the 600,000-650,000 cattle in California heading into the drought, 15-20 percent of them have been liquidated as ranchers slash their herds because of the extreme, prolonged dry spell, Oldfield said. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ correspondent