Reimbursement Approved for Losses in Watermelon Recall

Times Staff Writer

Over stiff opposition, the Assembly on Wednesday narrowly passed a $6.2-million bill to reimburse grocers, wholesalers and others who suffered financial losses from the state-ordered recall last July of watermelons suspected of being poisoned by a pesticide.

"(The bill) fulfills our commitment for equality and fairness . . . for those individuals who played by the rules and suffered economic hardships," said Assemblyman Norm Waters (D-Plymouth), author of the measure.

The recall was ordered after people became sick on Independence Day from eating watermelons suspected of containing the pesticide aldicarb. In all, more than 500 people became ill and civil actions subsequently were filed by the state against three Kern County watermelon growers.

The bill was sent to the Senate on a 57-12 vote, three more than the two-thirds majority required in the 80-member chamber.

No Responsibility Argued

But Assemblyman Lloyd G. Connelly (D-Sacramento) argued that the state was not responsible for the poisoning incidents and shouldn't be in the business of compensating those who filed claims against the state for the recall.

"In this instance there is zero negligence (on the part of the state), and we are paying 100% of the claim," said Connelly. "Why shouldn't we at least also provide compensation for the farm workers who lost their jobs, for the people who suffered medical costs as a result of eating the watermelons?"

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) agreed, asking, "Where is the equity for all those folks who no longer sell Excedrin or Tylenol because every three months somebody in (the) Health Services Department says you've got to pull it off the shelf because something happened on the East Coast? Why do (the grocers) receive so-called equity when no one else does?"

Assemblyman Bill Jones (R-Fresno) defended the bill, saying that the state was actually responsible for the losses suffered by those who grow and sell watermelons.

"The fact of the matter is that in this particular case there was negligence. . . . For three weeks, the state specifically destroyed the market of the watermelon growers in the state. . . . If you destroy a market, you destroy the livelihood for everyone up and down the state participating in that market."

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