The Assembly on Thursday approved AB 2043, which aims to protect farmworkers from COVID-19. The bill would mandate statewide adoption of Cal/OSHA guidelines, regardless of existing ordinances, while directing the agency to increase enforcement as well.

In debating his bill, Asm. Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, who represents an agricultural district along the Central Coast, echoed widely felt concerns that outbreaks among farmworker communities would impact national food security. He argued that farmworkers have been "given little information on how to protect themselves."

“My grandfather, who raised me, was a farmworker, said Rivas, who often references his grandfather for his farmworker bills. "I saw how hard he worked for 50 years of his life as a farmworker. He did this work day in and day out.”

Co-author Eduardo Garcia shared how the disease is affecting his region of the Coachella and Imperial Valleys, which have the highest rate of per capita COVID-19 cases in the state, with the majority of those affected being agricultural workers. The area is also home to California’s highest unemployment rate, at 26%, which will likely rise as high as 40%, he said.

Standing in opposition to the bill was Republican Heath Flora, who represents parts of San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties. Flora pointed out that he comes from a career in agriculture and supports the concept behind the bill, but counties should control what happens at the local level.

“The state is so uniquely diverse, and our agricultural regions are uniquely diverse as well,” he said. "We need (the bill) to be more localized, so that the individual regions can have more control over their individual commodities. They tend to know at the local level what is best for their own communities."

The measure passed along party lines 55-15, with nine lawmakers abstaining.