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Legislators talk water, immigration and doing business in California at Chamber breakfast
eggs and issues
Republican Assembly Leader Kristin Olsen and Congressman Jeff Denham share a laugh with the Eggs and Issues attendees on Thursday about the HBO show "True Detective" using California's high-speed rail project as the backdrop to their season finale. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal


Congressman Jeff Denham and Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen had breakfast in Turlock on Thursday, and spent the morning discussing California's water crisis, the Valley's transportation needs and immigration reform, among other topics, at the Turlock Chamber of Commerce's annual Eggs and Issues event.

Denham and Olsen acknowledged that the Valley and state have an ever-increasing list of challenges that need to be addressed, and chief among them is the water crisis.

"Today is the one year anniversary of when Governor Brown signed the water bond, and in many ways we should be applauding our state for getting that done because for over 30 years we sought to craft a water bond that could pass the legislature and pass the test of voters at the state ballot and we did this last year. That is a huge accomplishment that has the potential to set our state up for much greater prosperity in the future," said Olsen.

"The problem is, it's been a year and we've done nothing more. And shame on us if now the money the voters passed in that water bond sits idly there for years and decades on end and we never use it to build the water storage capacity, to build the foundation plan, to clean up our groundwater aquifers that our state so desperately needs," continued Olsen.

Denham addressed the challenges he faces trying to get federal support for California water projects.

"On the water front, this has certainly been a frustrating battle. It is a more difficult battle than any one we've ever faced, primarily because it's not just a Republican versus Democrat issue it's a California versus the other 49 states," said Denham.

Denham's solution to finding funding for water projects — along with state transportation needs — is the creation of a national infrastructure bank. This financing authority would provide loans and loan guarantees to states and localities to fill in gaps in infrastructure funding by attracting private investment.

"We've got to come up with new funding , which is why an infrastructure bank makes sense and puts it in place immediately," he said.

Denham went on to discuss another issue significant to the region — immigration.

A long supporter of immigration reform, Denham said legislators will no longer be able to postpone addressing the issue because the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act (E-Verify) is coming up in September.

"Kids who have been brought to this country through no fault of their own, have now gone to our schools, worked in our communities and still do not have a place in our community to call home. We need to make sure we're fixing our immigration policies, and E-Verify will be up in September and we will be forced to deal with it. There will be a push to not only make E-Verify extended and permanent, but also to make it mandatory. That will crush us as an ag community," said Denham

"We need to make sure that if E-Verify goes through on a mandatory basis, that we have a guest worker program. And you can't address E-Verify and a guest worker program without first addressing our border and secondly addressing the population here in our community," continued Denham.

When Olsen took to the podium on Thursday, she discussed ways diverse regions of the state could help each other and how she is fighting to make California more business-friendly.

Olsen said that while she travels around the state she looks for opportunities that could help the people in the Central Valley grow wealth, like the peer to peer economy idea that is growing in demand in the Bay Area.

"...and so I'm asking, what are the opportunities for people in the Central Valley to generate wealth, to generate income based on the technology applications that are being developed in the Bay Area," said Olsen.

While looking for new and innovative ideas, the Republican Leader also said she is fighting recent legislation that she believes hinder businesses from succeeding, like the minimum wage increase and paid sick leave law.

"We have to think much more comprehensively about the policies the state is pushing through, and in many cases they have a negative impact on workers and a negative impact on the ability of small businesses to grow. And when either of those happen, we're not achieving the levels of economic prosperity that we should be able to achieve in the state of California," said Olsen.

Olsen also talked a little about the efforts of the San Joaquin Valley Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators who are banning together to advocate for the needs of Valley residents namely: water, higher education and reforming the Americans with Disabilities Act to prevent frivolous law suits.

By the end of the breakfast, attendees were much more informed about a variety of federal, state and local governmental issues. The event ended on a bittersweet note, as County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, Denham and Olsen presented Turlock Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sharon Silva with certificates of recognition for her 17 years of service to the local business community. Silva announced her retirement in June and the Eggs and Issues Breakfast was her final Chamber event as CEO.