Dueling Set Safety Bills Stalled in California State Senate

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Two dueling California bills that set out to reform film and TV set safety in the wake of the Oct. 2021 Rust shooting that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead have been stalled after they entered the same Senate committee.

Sen. Anthony Portantino’s SB 829 and Sen. Dave Cortese’s SB 831 are being “held in committee” in the California Senate’s Appropriations Committee after they both had a hearing in the committee on Thursday. (“Held in committee” typically means the bills did not gain enough votes to leave the committee and continue through the legislative process.) According to Portantino, the chair of the Appropriations Committee, the development is essentially the result of a lack of collaboration between various stakeholders. Portantino said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that he “strongly encouraged broad entertainment interests to work collaboratively to bring forward a consensus approach to address any issues that might have been highlighted in the wake of the Rust tragedy” and was “extremely disappointed when they collectively failed to meet the challenge I laid out.”

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Portantino added, “Rather than draft a unilateral solution, I decided it’s best to reiterate the challenge by holding both non-consensus bills in committee. Should there be an agreement forthcoming, I’d be willing and eager to entertain it before the end of the legislative session.”

In his own statement about the development, Cortese said, “It’s a powerful and ruthless industry. First the industry killed Halyna. Then they killed the bill that would’ve made people like her safe.” He added, “Despite setbacks, I’m committed to real reforms that will protect our workers.”

While both bills call for greater regulation of firearms and blanks on set as well as safety training, SB 829 seeks to require a fire code official to be present during the use of firearms and blanks and to require the Office of the State Fire Marshal to develop safety courses for crewmembers, while SB 831 looks to tackle a broader range of safety concerns by necessitating a “set safety supervisor.” The safety supervisor would be an independent employee tasked with making a risk assessment before each production and attending set every day, with the power to pause production if they deem it necessary.

Support for the two bills has been split between management and labor: The Motion Picture Association backed Portantino’s bill, while the Directors Guild of America, California IATSE Council, Hollywood Teamsters, SAG-AFTRA and other labor groups threw their weight behind Cortese’s bill. THR has reached out to various supporters for comment.

On Friday, the MPA said in a statement that it remained “committed to working with the California legislature, as well as our union and guild partners, to enhance firearm safety on motion picture sets by building upon our already robust industry-wide protocols.”

In a recent THR story about the two bills, MPA vp state and local government affairs Melissa Patack said her organization was supporting SB 829 because “the focus is on training, and the MPA member companies believe that that needs to be the priority,” as well as making preexisting best practices and policies the legal standard in California. On the other side, IATSE Local 600 national executive director Rebecca Rhine, whose Local Hutchins belonged to, said, “There are a lot of protocols in our industry, there are a lot of safety bulletins.” She added, “What we think is that there’s a need to connect all of those rules and protocols to the actual on-the-ground workflow. And we believe that the safety supervisor is the piece that does that.”

Two recent California Senate Appropriations Committee analyses estimated that SB 831 would cost around $575,000 in its first year and $555,000 for the next two years to roll out; SB 831 would incur “unknown costs,” but potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for appropriate Office of the State Fire Marshal staffing, and incur “unknown cost pressures” to courts.

May 20, 11:42 a.m. Updated with an MPA statement.

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