Farmers could be jailed for failing to provide field workers with adequate shade or water under legislation sent to the governor Thursday.
The measure, Assembly Bill 2676, cleared the Legislature when the Assembly concurred in amendments, 43-28.
Democratic Assemblyman Charles Calderon 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 could be 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.
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," Alejo 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.