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CALIFORNIA SAFETY BILL MEANS BUSINESS

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SACRAMENTO, Calif.-California Gov. Pete Wilson has until next Monday to decide the fate of a bill that would greatly increase the civil penalties for serious workplace safety violations.

Unless Gov. Wilson vetoes the bill-A.B. 1015-it will automatically become law. A spokesman for the Republican governor said Gov. Wilson had not yet decided whether to sign or veto the measure as of Friday afternoon.

A.B. 1015, sponsored by Assemblyman Wally Knox, D-West Los Angeles, sets a new maximum fine of $500,000 for an offense committed "without due caution and circumspection" that results in death or "great bodily injury" to a worker.

The current California maximum penalty for a serious offense is $70,000. That is the same as the federal penalty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The measure also provides for imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year in conjunction with the fine. Federal law sets a six-month maximum prison term.

For corporations, the fine will be a maximum of $1 million in the event of a worker's death, if A.B. 1015 becomes law.

In addition, the measure would increase the personal fines levied against managers and supervisors to $500,000, from the current $70,000.

Because the measure defines "employee" to "include but not be limited to, any person working for the employer or at

the place of employment," business groups fear the measure will create subcontractor liability.

In its analysis of the bill, the Sacramento-based California Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the measure, said in a statement, "It is very important to note that A.B. 1015's subcontractor liability provision violates the basic tenet of occupational safety and health law, i.e., there must be a direct employer-employee relationship for an employer to be held responsible."

The measure is opposed by business groups but backed by district attorneys and labor groups.

The district attorneys, led by Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, hold that the new penalties are needed to deter future misconduct.

A spokeswoman for the California Chamber of Commerce disputed that claim.

"If the action is so criminal, we believe that it should go into the penal system," she said.