This story has been updated. See details below.

A bill introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) to invest in a citrus-saving research initiative is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

AB 571, which would appropriate $5 million for research and prevention of Huanglongbing, a citrus-destroying disease, passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday with a 3-0 vote.

If approved by the Appropriations Committee, the bill will go to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Huanglongbing, which is spread by the Asian Citrus Psyllid — a small winged insect — infects citrus trees and destroys them, and there is no known cure.

According to Gatto’s office, the disease has almost destroyed China’s citrus industry, and has caused the loss of more than 6,600 jobs and billions of dollars in Florida’s citrus industry.

“Agriculture forms a large part of California’s economy,” Gatto said in a statement.  “It is appropriate, likely even a duty, for the Legislature to take steps to prevent [Huanglongbing] from spreading.”

In recent years, the disease has been found in Southern California, but not yet crossed into the Central Valley — which produces 82% of the nation’s fresh fruit and employs more than 14,000 people.

“California cannot afford to lose another of its ‘signature’ industries,” Gatto said.  “AB 571 is a proactive measure that will save money and jobs for one of our most iconic and important industries — California citrus.”

[Update, June 20, 2013: At the time this story was originally posted, the bill was slated to go to the Senate floor. However, according to Gatto’s office, it has since been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. A date for the Appropriations hearing has not been set.]

-- Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com

Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.