‘Rust’ Set Safety Bills Stall in California Legislature

Two bills intended to strengthen safety on California movie sets stalled in the state legislature on Thursday, after Hollywood unions and major studios failed to agree on the best approach.

Both bills — SB 829 and SB 831 — came in response to the shooting last October on the set of “Rust” in Santa Fe, N.M. Actor Alec Baldwin fired a gun that was loaded with a live round, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding the film’s director.

Both bills would have established a new training requirement for film armorers. Much of the blame for the “Rust” shooting has been directed at Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the inexperienced armorer who loaded Baldwin’s gun. Gutierrez Reed had no formal training or credential — nor was she required to have any.

But SB 831, by Sen. Dan Cortese, would have gone significantly farther. It would have codified the industry’s gun safety standards in state regulations. The regulations are the result of labor-management bargaining, and are currently voluntary, meaning the state has no power to enforce violations. The bill would also have required a “set safety supervisor,” who would be given the power to shut down a production if it appeared to be unsafe.

The entertainment unions — including IATSE, the Directors Guild of America, and SAG-AFTRA — supported Cortese’s bill. They argued that while many productions adhere to the voluntary safety standards, some do not, and there is currently inadequate enforcement for violators.

The Motion Picture Association, which represents the studios, backed the more limited version, SB 829, by Sen. Anthony Portantino. That bill focused on establishing the armorer training requirement, and gave the State Fire Marshal the responsibility of establishing the training course. The Cortese bill would have given that task to the labor-management committee.

Cortese’s bill initially banned the use of real guns on set, but he backed off after industry stakeholders made the case for the continued necessity of using guns that can fire blank rounds.

Both bills faced a deadline on Thursday to pass the Senate Appropriations Committee, but both were not put up for a vote.

Portantino, who chairs the committee, put out a statement on Thursday saying he still hopes that the industry stakeholders can reach a consensus.

“Set safety is an extremely important issue for the craft and guild women and men who make our productions and for the State of California,” Portantino said. “I 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. I was extremely disappointed when they collectively failed to meet the challenge I laid out. 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.”

Cortese issued a much more pessimistic statement.

“It’s a powerful and ruthless industry,” he said. “First the industry killed Halyna. Then they killed the bill that would’ve made people like her safe.”

He added, however, that “Despite setbacks, I’m committed to real reforms that will protect our workers.”

The state of New Mexico has also considered safety reforms, though it appears officials there are awaiting the outcome of the “Rust” investigation before deciding on a path forward.

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