Greg Steube Reintroduces Bills Focusing on Citrus, H-2A Visas and Trucking

Last week, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., announced he was bringing back three proposals that he introduced last year, all of which focus on agriculture issues.

“It is our responsibility to help our farmers, ranchers and producers as they work to feed families here in Florida and across the country, especially while they struggle with the effects of COVID-19 and unfair foreign competition,” Steube said on Friday. “These initiatives will help all of those in the agriculture industry from farm to table, including laborers, commercial growers and producers, and agriculture transportation workers.”

Back in June, Steube brought out the “U.S. Citrus Protection Act,” which, his office noted, “would prohibit the importation of commercially produced fresh citrus fruit from China.”

When he brought out the proposal, Steube said he was championing the proposal to protect citrus growers in Florida and other states while blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic.

“As farmers and ranchers in Florida and across the country are struggling to cope with the decreased demand for their products as a result of the economic shutdowns, more than ever we need to put America first and cannot give foreign entities a competitive advantage,” Steube said. “Communist China is responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent economic damages that have impacted our nation’s farmers, and now they are trying to profit off of our hardship.”

“Florida has over 47,000 commercial farms and ranches and is ranked first in the U.S. in value of production of oranges and grapefruits with oranges’ annual production value over $1.07 billion,” the congressman’s office noted. “Florida’s 17th District produces more citrus than any other congressional district in the United States.”

Steube brought the bill back last month with U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., signing on last week as the only cosponsor. The bill was sent to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate.

Also last month, Steube brought back his proposal to move the H-2A visa program for temporary agriculture jobs from the U.S. Labor Department to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

At the start of last year, Steube first introduced the “Moving H-2A to United States Department of Agriculture Act” on Thursday.

According to the website of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the “H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.”

In February 2020, Steube weighed in on why he had introduced the bill.

“Farmers across Florida rely on the H-2A visa program each year for temporary agricultural labor,” said Steube. “Given that the purpose of the H-2A program is to address agricultural labor needs, it seems only logical that we would rely on the Department of Agriculture to review and grant these visas.”

“This bill would relocate the H-2A visa program from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture, including all personnel, funding, and other materials necessary for the administration of the program. The bill also transfers the responsibility for issuing the visa from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Homeland Security,” the congressman’s office noted.

Steube insisted the USDA was the right place to oversee these visas.

“The USDA is the expert when it comes to agriculture, and I for one think it is the best department to determine the needs of the agricultural community when it comes to labor,” said Steube. “It is my hope that with the transfer of this program, farmers in Florida and across America will see expedited review times and an overall improvement in the administration of the program. It’s time we trust the experts to manage this critical program and ensure the needs of our farmers are being met efficiently and effectively.”

This bill was sent to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. So far, Steube has not reeled in any cosponsors and there is no companion measure over in the Senate.

Also at the start of last year, Steube, brought “Freedom from Regulating Edible Supplies and Horticulture Trucking Act ” (FRESH Trucking Act) which, he insists, will “improve safety conditions for commercial agricultural drivers by eliminating harmful regulations that can result in dangerous driving practices and spoilage of products.”

In January 2020, Steube pointed to the important role citrus plays in his district.

“My district is the largest citrus-producing district in the United States. These citrus producers, and all the hard-working farmers and growers across my district, rely on commercial agricultural drivers to get their products from point A to point B,” Steube said when first he introduced the proposal. “Unfortunately, current federal regulations for drivers often create dangerous driving situations and can lead to the expiration of agricultural, horticultural, or floricultural products including fruits and flowers. This bill seeks to remedy these issues to improve safety and service.”

According to the congressman’s office, the bill “changes the hours of service and break regulations for commercial agricultural drivers, allowing them to complete their trip if they are over the maximum on-duty drive time but within 150 miles of their destination” and “removes loading and unloading time from being counted against on-duty time and gives agricultural drivers discretion to use their mandatory 30-minute break how and when they see fit across their 8-hour shift.”

Steube brought back the bill at the start of this month and the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent the bill to the U.S. Highways and Transit Subcommittee. So far, there are no cosponsors and no Senate version.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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