RULES TO AID MIGRANT WORKERS ADVANCE - Mitch Perry

03/15/04

Legislation that monitors working conditions for migrant farmworkers and toughens penalties against unethical farm labor contractors passed the House Agriculture Committee in its first -- and toughest - stop last week.

The measure that passed last Thursday gives state regulators more authority to investigate allegations of abuse and creates a commission to monitor the working conditions of farmworkers.

Last week, Governor Jeb Bush held a news conference to announce the legislation and throw his weight behind it. Republicans took over sponsorship of the legislation, which was based in part on abuses detailed in a newspaper series, in both the Miami Herald AND the Palm Beach Post..

The legislation also has a provision requiring employers to inform farmworkers about the dangers of pesticides they work with, a measure that Democrat Frank Peterman of St. Petersburg tried unsuccessfully for four years to get passed.

Representative Peterman told WMNF today that he'd like the pesticide provision of the bill to be strengthened, but overall is pleased with the possibility of serious farm worker reform being enacted (roll tape#1 o.q."during this time")

The legislation allows farm contractors to be charged with a third-degree felony if working conditions pose a threat to workers' health, safety and welfare.

The legislation would increase to $2,500, from $1,000, the maximum penalty for abusers, while prohibiting labor contractors from forcing farmworkers to buy food, water or housing from them.

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