Business

Should prisons and schools have to buy California ag products?

A California legislator wants to require the state's prisons, schools and other public institutions to buy local agriculture products to support California farmers. 

Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) recently introduced the Choose California Act, a bill that would require public institutions to buy California agriculture products if the price is within 5% of the lowest out-of-state competitor.

Schools would be exempt from that rule and would be required to buy California-grown products only if they are cheaper.

Existing law gives California products preference only if the cost and value are equal to out-of-state competitors.

The measure cleared the accountability and administrative review committee on a 12-1 vote Wednesday.

"AB 199 is one of my efforts to help the California economy by supporting one of our vital economic sectors: agriculture," Holden testified Wednesday. "This bill would use the state’s purchasing power to bolster those businesses and invigorate our state economy."

California, which leads the country in agriculture production, had sales of nearly $44 billion in 2011, according to state agriculture statistics. Almost 82,000 farms in the state produced more than 400 agriculture products. Dairy is the state's biggest agriculture commodity.

The committee's passage of the bill follows a Times story on other states' efforts to poach California dairy farmers.

"It just makes sense to put California-grown crops, livestock and dairy first,” Holden said in a statement. “When I read that dairy farmers were being lured by other states with friendlier business climates, I knew we were on the right track with this legislation"

The measure, which has the support of the California Farm Bureau Federation, moves to the Assembly's agriculture committee next. It is expected to be heard later this month, said Wendy Gordon, a spokeswoman for Holden.

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ricardo.lopez2@latimes.com

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