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Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Wildfire Preparedness Committee Releases Draft Legislation

Aug 29, 2018
by Will Carruthers

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After a month of discussion, a legislative committee tasked with writing regulations governing wildfire preparedness and responses released draft legislation on Tuesday night, just three days before the end of the legislative session.

The Wildfire Preparedness and Response Legislative Conference Committee, a ten-member group of Senators and Assemblymembers tasked with writing a bi-partisan bill to improve California’s rules for wildfire response, mitigation and prevention.

The conference committee was formed in July in order to deliver an updated version of Senate Bill 901, originally introduced by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) on January 16.

The legislation is focused on "strengthening fire prevention and emergency preparedness, improving forest management, determining appropriate wildfire liability and ensuring resilient utility infrastructure," according to a July 24 letter from Governor Jerry Brown to the committee.

The most widely discussed section of the bill will determine whether or not utilities will be liable to pay damages as the result of future fires in which the utility is found to have neglected equipment maintenance procedures. 

After studying the causes of 2017 North Bay fires, Cal Fire found reason to believe that the utility had broken state safety rules in 11 of the 16 fires it studied. 

As written, SB 901 would allow utilities to pass on wildfire recovery costs to ratepayers in fires after January 1, 2019, in which the utility maintained its equipment properly. If the utility neglected its equipment, then the utility and its shareholders would have to pay the costs. 

“We can’t go back in time to change past tragedies but we must stand with victims, learn from the mistakes of the past and take real steps to prevent future wildfires,” Senator Dodd told the committee on Tuesday. “If the Legislature fails to act, avoidable fires will continue to happen. Again, this package is about communities, victims and ratepayers – past, present and future – and ultimately, what’s best for them.”

The legislature must pass the draft legislation by the end of session on Friday, August 31. Governor Brown will have until September 30 to sign any bill approved by the legislature.

For more information on the intention of the bill, read a statement from Senator Dodd, the committee's co-chair, here

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