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California farmers could face jail for heat violations

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 | 1:34 PM    

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CALIFORNIA, USA (AP) — Farmers in California could be tossed in jail and fined thousands of dollars if they fail to provide field workers with adequate water and shade under a bill that passed the state Senate yesterday.

California regulations already require growers to protect their workers from extreme heat, but the rules are now enforced with civil penalties by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Under AB2676, which passed on a party line 24-12 vote over Republicans' opposition, violations would be classified as misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail and a US$10,000 fine.

If a violation results in injury, farmers could face up to a year in a county jail and a fine of up to US$25,000.

The bill returns to the Assembly for a final vote.

Prosecutors need the criminal penalties if they are to enforce the law, said Senator Loni Hancock.

"It is a sad state of affairs that our current laws provide greater protections for animals than they do for farm workers," Hancock said.

Republican senators argued that argument is offensive to responsible growers. They said criminal penalties aren't necessary when state safety regulators can enforce current laws.

"By and large, farmers treat their employees well and humanely," said Republican Senator, Doug La Malfa.

He and other Republican lawmakers objected that the measure is the second approved by the Senate in two days that would make it more difficult for growers to operate. On Monday, senators approved a bill requiring that farm workers be paid overtime after working an eight-hour day or 40 hours in a week, the same as other non-management employees.

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