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Legislators seek to soften sting of bee die-off

California legislators want to stop the sudden death of billions of bees, which are crucial to the success of the state's $44-billion agricultural industry.

October 20, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • California almond growers rely on an estimated 1.6 million hives full of healthy bees to turn almond tree flowers into valuable, tasty nuts every year. Above, a honey bee pollinates a flowering almond tree at a farm in Lost Hills, Calif., last year.
California almond growers rely on an estimated 1.6 million hives full of… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

SACRAMENTO — It's a wrap for Gov. Jerry Brown, Sacramento's leading man.

He closed out the 2013 legislative session by addressing the last of 901 bills sent him by lawmakers: signing 805 and vetoing 96 others.

With a sometimes bill-a-minute voting frenzy behind them, legislators now want to slow down and think about a range of problems that dog California. Assembly and Senate committees are holding "interim hearings" around the state.

Among the more engaging topics: "Human Rights, Diversity and Race Relations," "Threats to the Pacific Ocean," "Military Sexual Trauma" and "Defense and Aerospace Industry's ability to remain competitive in California."

Last week's crisis: "Finding solutions to the Bee Colony Collapse Disorder."

It may seem a little odd; but it's far from it. The honey bee emergency stems from the sudden death of billions of bees in hundreds of thousands of hives since 2006. Bees are crucial to the success of California's $44-billion agricultural industry.

"This is a huge issue for those California crops that depend heavily on pollination by honey bees," said Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), who chaired Wednesday's joint hearing of the environmental safety and agriculture committees. "Almonds, apples, avocados and cherries — just to name a few — rely on bees."

The bee die-off appears to be caused by factors including pesticides, poor nutrition, lack of natural forage and virus-carrying mites, experts testified.

That poses an existential threat to California's massive $3.6-billion almond industry. Growers rely on an estimated 1.6 million hives full of healthy bees to turn almond tree flowers into valuable, tasty nuts every year.

Computer chaos

California's government has gained a wretched reputation for mishandling massive computer projects, stretching back to the late 1980s. Hardware and software upgrades in recent years have run into serious problems and sometimes failed completely at the Controller's office, the court system, pension funds and the Department of Finance, among other agencies. Meltdowns have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

This season's biggest fiasco is the flawed modernization of a three-decade-old computer system at the Employment Development Department.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of jobless Californians went without unemployment insurance payments for weeks, waiting for money to cover rent, groceries and gas.

The Assembly Insurance Committee hopes to get to the root of the problem at an investigative hearing, tentatively planned for later this year. The Senate Labor Committee is expected to conduct its own probe to grill EDD officials, executives at contractor Deloitte Consulting and state information technology experts.

"I want to upgrade the computers. It makes sense," said Assembly Insurance Committee member Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). "But this snafu is really horrible."

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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