Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who represents a Central Coast agricultural district, said the state has “a moral responsibility, a moral duty to protect the vulnerable.” This extends to farmworkers facing the threat of exposure to the coronavirus.
His measure, Assembly Bill 2043, aims to solve agriculture’s problem of having a "patchwork" of health and safety guidance on COVID-19 that varies by county.
The Assembly Labor Committee debated the bill on Wednesday. The measure would require all agricultural employers to implement guidance on COVID-19 and give Cal/OSHA the regulatory muscle to enforce the same standards statewide. Rivas also hopes to add an urgency clause to accelerate the timeline on the regulations during the pandemic.
While farmworker and anti-pesticide groups supported the bill, several ag groups opposed. Michael Miller, a policy advocate for the California Association of Winegrape Growers, argued the standards vary by county due to the fact the requirements for the virus in each county are different. The state has supported local leadership during the pandemic as well. Miller said overlaying county guidance with a statewide standard would create even more problems.
A CalChamber representative added that the state already has an enforcement lever for health and safety standards. He said it was also widely recognized that a similar measure relating to wildfires ended up having “a lot of problems.”
The measure, however, swiftly passed the committee and is on its way to the Appropriations Committee.