Governor Brown Signs Legislation to Strengthen Wildfire Prevention & Recovery

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today signed legislation to strengthen California’s ability to prevent and recover from catastrophic wildfires, including Senate Bill 901 – authored by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) – which boosts the state’s forest management activities, updates requirements for the maintenance and operation of utility infrastructure to reflect changing climate conditions, and protects ratepayers and utility workers.

“Wildfires in California aren’t going away, and we have to do everything possible to prevent them. This bill is complex and requires investment – but it’s absolutely necessary,” said Governor Brown.

“This new law is the most comprehensive wildfire prevention and safety package the state has passed in decades,” said Senator Dodd, who co-chaired the Legislature’s Wildfire Preparedness and Response Conference Committee. “It will help prevent further loss of life and property while ensuring ratepayers aren’t left holding the bag. By enacting this law, we’ve laid a solid base to build on as California continues adapting to the ‘new normal’ caused by climate change.”

“Senate Bill 901 is the right response to the devastating wildfires that ravaged our state,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden, who co-chaired the Legislature’s Wildfire Preparedness and Response Conference Committee. “The bill provides comprehensive safety solutions to protect ratepayers, makes our electric system safer, and helps stabilize the utilities.”

Following some of the most deadly and destructive wildfires in state history last year, Governor Brown joined with legislative leaders in March and committed to making California more resilient against future natural disasters in the face of increasingly extreme weather driven by climate change. Some of the significant highlights of SB 901 include:

  • Requiring utilities to implement comprehensive fire prevention plans, including improvements to utility infrastructure.
  • Expediting small landowner incentives and projects to reduce excess fuel and remove dead and dying trees and chaparral.
  • Facilitating access to property to carry out projects to improve overall forest health and resistance to wildfires.
  • Adding a rigorous standard for the California Public Utilities Commission to oversee the allocation of utility wildfire costs and expenses, including consideration of climate change impacts.
  • Authorizing a financing mechanism so utilities can spread out wildfire costs to minimize impacts to ratepayers.
  • Adding worker protections and prohibiting utilities from charging their customers for executive compensation.

“The Senate worked diligently this year to find commonsense solutions to wildfires that have now become a regular feature of life in California. Every Senate district is touched by the consequences of a warming climate and the wildfires that come with it,” said Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins. “Of particular significance is SB 901 which prevents future catastrophic wildfires across the state while protecting utility ratepayers from unfairly bearing the costs of wildfire impacts. I thank my colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly for the diligence in tackling this issue. And I thank Governor Brown for his engagement throughout the process.”

“The forestry management funding in SB 901 makes broad changes that will encourage local communities to better plan for wildfires and ease landowners’ efforts to conduct fuel treatments on their land. The $1 billion provided for that effort will go a long way,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

“This year alone, 1.3 million acres of California have burned. The loss of life and property has been staggering. We are taking steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. SB 901 is a necessary first step,” said Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle.

“Catastrophic wildfires have disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians due to decades of neglect and failure to manage our forests and wildlands. This legislation is an important step toward safeguarding lives, property and the state’s watersheds,” said Senator Jim Nielsen.

The 2018 wildfires are already approaching last year’s total acreage burned – 1.4 million – with several months left in the calendar year. Four of California’s five most destructive wildfires on record have burned in the last 15 years.

In addition to working with lawmakers on a solution, Governor Brown in May issued an executive order to improve the health of the state’s forests and help mitigate the threat and impacts of deadly and destructive wildfires, which hinder the state’s progress toward its climate goals. Forests serve as the state’s largest land-based carbon sink, drawing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in trees and shrubs and in forest soils. But even a single wildfire can immediately cancel all those benefits.

In addition to SB 901, the Governor also signed the following bills today:

SB 30 by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) requires the Insurance Commissioner to convene a working group to assess new and innovative investments in natural infrastructure and insurance products in light of California’s worsening fire vulnerability due to climate change.

SB 821 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) authorizes counties to enter into an agreement to access the contact information of public utility customers for the sole purpose of enrolling county residents in a county-operated public emergency warning system.

SB 824 by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) prohibits an insurer from canceling or refusing to renew a homeowner’s insurance policy for one year from the date of a declaration of emergency and requires insurers to report specified fire risk information to the Department of Insurance.

SB 833 by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) requires the Office of Emergency Services, in consultation with specified stakeholders, to develop voluntary guidelines for alerting and warning the public of an emergency.

SB 894 by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) provides assistance to survivors of major disasters or catastrophic events, including requiring insurers to renew a residential insurance policy for at least two renewal periods (24 months), requiring insurers to grant an additional 12 months of additional living expenses and allowing combined payments for losses to a primary dwelling and other structures so homeowners can apply those losses as they see fit, such as rebuilding the main home.

SB 896 by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) extends the sunset date on the state’s aggravated arson statute to help ensure law enforcement agencies maintain a valuable deterrent to prevent arson-caused wildfires.

SB 917 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) requires insurers to cover a loss resulting from a combination of disasters (landslide, mudslide, mudflow or debris flow) if an insured disaster is the proximate cause of the loss or damage and would otherwise be covered.

SB 969 by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) requires residential automatic garage door openers manufactured for sale, sold, or installed in California to have a backup battery that is designed to operate during an electrical outage and prohibits replacement garage doors from being installed without backup batteries.

SB 1079 by Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) authorizes the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to make advance payments to grantees receiving funds from the healthy forest and local fire prevention grant programs.

SB 1181 by Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) authorizes the Office of Emergency Services to enter into an agreement with one or more certified community conservation corps to perform emergency or disaster response services.

SB 1260 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) authorizes federal, state and local agencies to engage in collaborative forestry management, creates new opportunities for private landowners to partner with public agencies to mitigate wildfire risk and enhances the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s role in identifying wildfire hazards as local governments plan for new housing and neighborhoods.

SB 1261 by Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) ensures that one-time death benefits are provided to eligible survivors of pilots fighting an active California fire even if they fly their own aircraft or one owned by an entity other than the state.

AB 1772 by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) extends from 24 months to 36 months the period of time within which an insurance policyholder is entitled to collect full replacement benefits under a replacement cost fire insurance policy.

AB 1800 by Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County) prohibits, in the event of a total loss, a residential property insurance policy from limiting or denying payment based on the fact that the policyholder has chosen to rebuild or purchase a home at a new location.

AB 1875 by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) connects consumers who need residential property insurance with agents and brokers to help ensure they obtain plans and coverage that suit their specific needs.

AB 1877 by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Goleta) requires the Office of Emergency Services to create a library of translated emergency notifications and translation style guide and requires authorities to consider using the library and translation style guide when issuing emergency notifications to the public.

AB 1919 by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) expands the scope of criminal price gouging by including rental housing that was not on the market at the time of the proclamation or declaration of emergency and defines the rental price of housing for purposes of price gouging.

AB 1956 by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Goleta) establishes a grant program to support fire prevention activities, including vegetation management, grazing, prescribed burns, creation of defensible space and retrofitting structures to increase fire resistance.

AB 1981 by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Goleta) requires the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Forest Management Task Force to coordinate with the California Environmental Protection Agency to promote the use of forestry material in compost.

AB 2091 by Assemblymember Tim Grayson (D-Concord) requires the Forest Management Task Force, in coordination with the California Department of Insurance, to develop recommendations to reduce the cost of conducting prescribed burns.

AB 2126 by Assemblymember Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) requires the California Conservation Corps director to establish a Forestry Corps Program by July 1, 2019. The program would provide corps members with job training and placement in forest health projects.

AB 2380 by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) requires the state to develop standards and regulations for privately contracted fire prevention operations that are conducted during an active fire incident.

AB 2518 by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) requires the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to explore markets for innovative forest products and mass timber consistent with the state’s climate objectives.

AB 2551 by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) allows the director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to enter into agreements with landowners to conduct joint prescribed burning operations.

AB 2594 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) extends the existing statute of limitations for a homeowner to sue an insurer from 12 to 24 months if the loss is related to a state of emergency.

AB 2889 by Assemblymember Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) requires the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to provide assistance and develop guidance documents to reduce timelines for timber harvest plan review and approval.

AB 2911 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) makes various changes to fire safety planning efforts, defensible space requirements and vegetation clearance requirements for electrical transmission and distribution lines to improve the fire safety of California communities.

AB 2990 by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) provides surviving dependents of a deceased firefighter or law enforcement officer free tuition and fees within the California Community College, State University and University of California systems.

For full text of the bills, visit: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov

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