SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The state Assembly approved legislation Thursday that would expose agricultural employers to civil lawsuits for failing to abide by heat safety requirements.
AB2346 would let farm workers sue if employers fail to supply water within 10 feet or shade within 200 feet of workers.
Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, D-Marina del Ray, said she wrote the bill because the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is not doing enough to protect field workers from heat-related illness and death.
"Water and shade are essentially free," she said. "People who feed us should not fear death when they go to work."
Several Republican lawmakers spoke against the bill. Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, of Gerber, said the requirement that workers have water close at hand is too onerous, and the potential penalties for employers are too high. Employers who are found to have forced workers to labor in unsafe conditions would have to pay up to $1 million in restitution if the bill becomes law.
"I don't understand why agriculture is being singled out," he said. "They're trying to fix something that is not broken."
The bill passed 41-27 Thursday after failing three times earlier in the day.
Much of the floor debate centered around the case of a teen farmworker who died in 2008 from heat-related causes.
Authorities said Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died because supervisors denied her shade and water as she pruned grapes in the blistering San Joaquin County heat.
Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, said the rights strengthened by the bill were self-evident.
"I cannot believe that there's a bill on this floor that simply requires that water be provided to farmworkers in the field," he said.