Ag Alert Update: Governor vetoes heat illness bills
By Kate Campbell
Two bills that would have imposed inflexible heat illness-prevention rules on California farmers and ranchers have been vetoed by Gov. Brown.
In veto statements issued Sunday night, Brown noted California has the most stringent worker heat standards in the nation and compliance with those regulations has steadily increased for agriculture and other outdoor industries. He said compliance with state regulations has increased from 32 percent in 2006 to more than 80 percent in 2012, with even greater improvements in agriculture.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said today the state's farmers and ranchers will continue their efforts to assure employee safety on hot days.
The vetoed bills, Assembly Bill 2346 and AB 2676, would have each placed additional burdens on farmers who already work under comprehensive heat-safety regulations.
AB 2346, authored by Betsy Butler, D-Los Angeles, would have allowed workers to sue employers for violations of the state heat standard and would have made employers jointly liable for violations of their farm labor contractors.
Calling AB 2346 flawed, Brown said it would have created through legislation a new enforcement structure that would single out agricultural employers and burden the courts with private lawsuits.
"I believe the regulatory process is more flexible and the better way to improve standards for farmworkers," Brown said. "Ongoing litigation about past enforcement practices continues to drain resources away from improving the existing heat standards and ongoing enforcement."
AB 2676, by Charles Calderon, D-Whitter, would have expanded heat illness penalties, making violations a misdemeanor punishable by potential monetary fines and jail time.
In his veto message, Brown said he believes enforcement of heat standards can be improved, but said he is "not convinced that creating a new crime—and a crime that applies only to one group of employers—is the answer."
Wenger noted Farm Bureau and other farm organizations have worked cooperatively with Cal/OSHA to develop and strengthen existing heat-illness regulations, and stressed, "We will continue to do so."
During the past decade, Wenger said, tens of thousands of farmers, farm labor contractors and employees have been trained to understand heat illness and how to keep employees safe while working outside.
Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations had encouraged the governor to veto both bills, saying they would have placed nearly impossible new rules on farmers.
"The best way to assure heat safety is through comprehensive, coordinated efforts involving employers, employees and regulators," Wenger said. "Farmers and ranchers accept the governor's invitation to continue working for improved workplace safety."
The governor's period for taking action on legislation passed at the end of the 2011-12 legislative session ended Sept. 30. Watch for comprehensive coverage on a number of other bills important to agriculture in the Oct. 10 issue of Ag Alert®.
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.