California Introduces 11 Bills Aimed at Reducing Wildfires

The legislative package addresses wildfire prevention, workforce training, disaster relief and wetland protection. The state is already spending $536 million on fire-prevention projects.

(TNS) — A group of California lawmakers on Thursday touted 11 bills they're advancing to get better control of the worsening wildfires that have razed towns and neighborhoods across the state in recent years.

The legislative package moving through the state Senate covers four areas: wildfire prevention, workforce training, home insurance and funding. Those areas are outlined in a policy blueprint from a subset of Senate Democrats who have been working on wildfire issues for the past two years.

The bills are progressing to the Senate floor as California grapples with a deepening drought and an increase in fire activity compared to the same period last year, with the most dangerous months still to come.

"There is no silver bullet," state Sen. Mike McGuire, D- Healdsburg, said at a news conference. "We must deploy multiple strategies ... to combat what will be, and what is, an evolving crisis not just in California, but the entire western United States."

Among the bills being advocated by the fire-focused senators is SB45, which would place a $5.6 billion bond before voters next year. It would fund projects to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and help communities burned in past disasters recover while also providing money for wetland protection, making the state's water supplies more drought-resistant and other efforts.

Another bill is SB332, which would aim to expand the use of prescribed fires by instituting more favorable liability rules for people certified as qualified burn bosses. Under the bill, burn bosses wouldn't be legally responsible for damages if their fire gets out of control unless their conduct is deemed grossly negligent.

To improve the homeowners' insurance landscape in fire zones, SB72 would make information about insurance a factor in the state's vegetation management work. The goal is to have the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, explicitly consider places where insurers are reluctant to renew homeowners' policies when the agency prioritizes its projects.

Additionally, SB804 would establish a forestry training center in Northern California to provide crucial fire safety and forest health job training for formerly incarcerated people. Those who complete training at the center would be eligible for an entry-level state government job in forestry or vegetation management.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has already signed legislation this year that allocated $536 million for fire-prevention and safety projects, including vegetation thinning and other forest health initiatives. Newsom's latest budget plan calls for a record $2 billion in fire-related state spending.

State senators said Thursday that the state is in conversations with federal officials about additional opportunities to reduce the threat of major wildfires. The federal government owns 57 percent of California's forest land, where many of the state's largest fires routinely burn.

(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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