Lawmakers on Thursday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a pair of bills intended to improve conditions for farmworkers, housekeepers and nannies.
Farmers could be jailed for failing to provide field workers with adequate shade or water under Assembly Bill 2676, which cleared the Assembly, 43-28.
Democratic Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Whittier characterized his bill as a humane measure. State law protects the welfare of domestic animals in extreme heat and it should do the same for farmworkers, he said.
"I hope that you can at least see that I'm trying to do the right thing here," Calderon told colleagues during floor debate.
AB 2676 requires that anyone directing or supervising a farmworker must ensure "continuous, ready access" to shade and to enough "suitably cool" water for each employee to drink one quart per hour throughout a work shift.
Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor subject to a six-month jail term and a fine of up to $10,000. If the victim suffers injury, the potential penalty would escalate to a one-year jail term and a $25,000 fine.
Republicans called AB 2676's penalties overkill, and painted the bill as a new burden for farmers struggling in a tough economy.
"The penalties in this bill, if you're a 40-acre farmer, it puts you out of business," said Republican Assemblyman Bill Berryhill of Ceres.
Other opponents said that AB 2676 could backfire on field workers because farmers, if there is any question about compliance on a particular day, would likely send employees home rather than risk a huge fine.
"For crying out loud, what is this state coming to?" Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said in opposing the bill.
Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo applauded AB 2676 by recalling the death of a 17-year-old field worker in Lodi four years ago. She had pruned grapes for nine hours, without water, until she finally collapsed, he said.
"Nobody bothered to call the emergency room," the Watsonville Democrat said. "Nobody bothered to call an ambulance."
The farmworker's body temperature rose to more than 108 degrees, and she died two days after collapsing, Alejo said.
Another bill that would give domestic workers such as housekeepers and nannies overtime pay, rest periods and other state labor protections was sent to Brown on a 42-27 vote along party lines.
Assembly Bill 889 is sponsored by the California Domestic Workers Coalition and dozens of labor union and civil rights groups and is being carried by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.
Ammiano and other advocates said the legislation would protect domestic workers against exploitation. He said it would not be applied to teenage baby sitters and other casual workers.
Republicans, however, said that it would raise costs for parents and the elderly who depend on household help.