No break for CA ag trucks

Jun 15, 2012

A bill sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) to exempt farmers, ranchers and their employees from needing commercial drivers’ licenses to operate heavy trucks and trailers within 150 miles of their farm operations died in committee, the week of June 4, to the disappointment of agriculture groups in the state.

Introduced by 28th District Assemblyman Luis Alejo, the legislation would have increased the weight limit of motor vehicles that Class C license holders may operate as farmers, farm employees or certified ag instructors from 26,000 pounds or less to 28,500 pounds or less and limit lengths of combinations of vehicles to 75 feet or less until Jan. 1, 2018.

Such vehicles would not be considered commercial motor vehicles and would be used exclusively in the conduct of farm operations. In addition to loosening licensing requirements, the bill also would have excluded pickup trucks or vehicles with flatbeds less than nine feet during that period.

Existing law requires that farm workers must have Class A or Class B commercial driving certification before they can drive vehicles of that size on public highways. The California Legislature is now on break until the end of summer.

Predicting the legislation will be introduced next year, CCA Communications Director Stevie Ipsen told the Western Livestock Journal, “Obviously, we’re very disappointed. This is something farmers and ranchers have really needed.”

Livestock producers do not drive heavy equipment on a daily basis and don’t need commercial drivers’ licenses just to drive pickup trucks and trailers, Ipsen said, adding she thinks the issue may have been pushed back because of pressing budget issues.

Calling it a “very liberal state,” Ipsen said California is imposing increasing regulations on the state’s highly recognized agriculture industry, which is the nation’s largest. “A lot of legislators don’t recognize the need of farmers and ranchers to stay in business. … California agriculture is very important to the country and the globe.”

On June 5, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors threw its support behind the legislation that would make it legal for farmers to operate heavyduty trucks without commercial driver’s licenses.

Riverside County hosts 1,700 farming operations with $1 billion in annual product

Supervisors noted that newer pickups are heavier now, exceeding 11,500 pounds, subjecting owners to specialized licensing requirements. John Benoit introduced the county resolution supporting Alejo’s bill, saying it was a rational, good policy for the agriculture community.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and Western Growers Association also backed the commercial drivers’ license exemption for farmers and ranchers.

Steve Pastor, executive director of the Riverside County Farm Bureau, told WLJ it was a good bill for agriculture and would have helped farmers quite a bit. “We feel there’s a need for it because it allows growers and farmers to take their products to market. A lot rely on pickups and trailers. This allows them to safely transport products.” — Mark Mendiola, WLJ correspondent