By Kevin HectemanGov. Gavin Newsom emptied his inbox of bills by the Oct. 10 deadline, signing measures to help farmers and ranchers rescue livestock in wildfires and also approving legislation potentially impacting oversight of farm employers.
A statewide Ag Pass program, modeled on those introduced in wildfire-stricken counties over the past four years, will come into existence with the governor's signature on Assembly Bill 1103.
The bill, authored by Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, R-Bieber, grants qualifying farmers and ranchers or managerial employees access to livestock during natural disasters such as wildfires. During past fires, road closures enforced as part of evacuation zones have prevented ranchers from being able to check on livestock and evacuate the animals if needed. Ag Pass will allow for access to livestock without waiting for a law-enforcement escort.
Newsom also signed a pair of bills that could present new headaches for agricultural employers.
Senate Bill 606, from Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, creates a presumption that an occupational health or safety violation committed by an employer with multiple worksites is an enterprise-wide issue. The bill allows the state to issue a citation for the entire enterprise if the employer fails to rebut the accusation.
The law also counts violations by the employee rather than by the worksite, meaning a violation affecting multiple employees could be counted as multiple violations in determining fines and penalties.
Use of performance metrics will fall under a new regulatory regime thanks to Assembly Bill 701 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, which Newsom signed Sept. 22.
The bill will require employers setting workplace standards to provide employees with a copy of the metrics by which they will be judged. That would include tasks to be performed or materials to be produced in a given time period, as well as the consequences of failing to meet the goal.
AB 701 additionally prevents performance metrics that would force an employee to miss meal or bathroom breaks. Employees who feel they had to skip such breaks or violate occupational health and safety standards to meet work targets may request a copy of the employer's policy and the past 90 days' worth of data on their performance.
Employees, current or former, may sue for injunctive relief and recover their legal fees if they win.
The bill applies to warehouse distribution centers with 100 or more employees in a single location or 1,000 or more statewide. While it exempts "farm product warehousing and storage," it does include an operation falling under general warehousing and storage or merchant wholesalers of durable and nondurable goods.
AB 535 by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, will require containers of olive oil produced and sold in California to disclose the minimum percentage of oil derived from California-grown olives on the label. The rule applies to bottled products that feature the Golden State's name on the label but contain oil from olives grown outside California.
A bill designed to clean up last year's voter-approved Proposition 19 was also signed into law. SB 539 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, is meant to help protect family farms from sizable tax increases when ownership is transferred from one family member to another.
(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)