The deadliest fire in California history is still raging, and there still hundreds of people unaccounted for in this ongoing tragedy. In addition to earning that moniker, the Camp Fire is also “the most destructive in California history … 8,817 structures have been destroyed, including 7,600 homes.”

Like the fires in 2017, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) appears to be the focus of the finger pointing. There’s already talk of lawsuits directed at PG&E – should they be the ones found responsible for the Camp Fire. California State Senator Jerry Hill is in the camp of those who believe PG&E is to blame, telling Politico, “The main culprit here is the spark, and what cause the spark. … Here, PG&E reported a break in their line where the Camp Fire started. It looks like there’s a causal relationship there.”

Politico is further reporting that Sen. Hill is “having a number of conversations” about introducing legislation in the 2019-2020 session that would create a statewide publicly owned utility company – a la SMUD here in Sacramento – as an alternative to investor owned utility like PG&E.

Sen. Hill is a well-known antagonist of PG&E, so his stance is not surprising. And it also needs repeating the Cal Fire is still investigating the cause of the Camp Fire, so it could very well mean that PG&E is not responsible this time.

However, if PG&E is found responsible for the Camp Fire, things could get very expensive for the utility very quickly. That’s because SB 901 – last year’s grand compromise on wildfire liability – allows utilities like PG&E to pass on the cost of lawsuits to ratepayers for 2017’s wildfires and for wildfires sparked after Jan. 1, 2019, leaving PG&E shareholders on the hook for the Camp Fire it be determined PG&E was liable. Should that be the case, I would not be surprised if PG&E sponsored legislation in 2019 in an attempt to shift costs of the Camp Fire from shareholders and on to ratepayers.

Looking ahead – between potential lawsuits, the cost of lobbying, and dealing with unbridled rage of Northern Californians who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their possessions – it is increasingly looking like PG&E will have hell to pay in the near future.

The deadline for Governor Jerry Brown to sign or veto bills has come and passed so there are now no more bills in legislative limbo. This is the final rundown of how the bills we looked at this year fared.

Assembly Bills

  • AB 186: Controlled substances: overdose prevention program – Vetoed
  • AB 638: Immigration consultants – Dead, died on the Senate floor (13 Ayes, 17 Noes)
  • AB 931: Use of force by peace officers – Dead, held in Senate Rules Committee.
  • AB 1436: Suicide prevention training – Signed into law
  • AB 1784: Pilot program for support services for resource families – Dead, held on Suspense file in Senate Appropriations. Will be revived next session.
  • AB 1971: Reform of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act – Dead, ordered to inactive file by coauthor
  • AB 2018: Loan forgiveness program for public mental health professionals – Dead, held on Suspense File in Senate Appropriations
  • AB 2551: Forestry and fire prevention – Signed into law
  • AB 2780: Family Law: support orders – Signed into law

Senate Bills

  • SB 320: Medication abortion at public universities – Vetoed
  • SB 822: Net Neutrality – Signed into law
  • SB 901: Wildfires – Signed into law
  • SB 906: Mental health service, peer support specialist certification – Vetoed.
  • SB 923: Criminal investigations: eyewitness identification – Signed into law
  • SB 1004: Mental Health Services Act: prevention and early intervention – Signed into law
  • SB 1113: Mental health in the workplace: voluntary standards – Signed into law by Governor Brown
  • SB 1421: Public access to police records – Signed into law

So, now that the Governor has finished acting on legislation that makes the final count 4 bills dead in the Legislature, 9 bills signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, and 2 vetoed bills.

Another week has gone by, and Governor Brown has worked his way through more bills that were sent to his desk in the flurry of activity that came at the end of session. I’ve also added in a few more bills to this list, updating it with bills that have been discussed on In Session, and a bill we’ll be talking about on tomorrow’s episode of The CAP⋅impact Podcast.

Assembly Bills

  • AB 638: Immigration consultants – Dead, died on the Senate floor (13 Ayes, 17 Noes)
  • AB 931: Use of force by peace officers – Dead, held in Senate Rules Committee.
  • AB 1436: Suicide prevention training – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor
  • AB 1784: Pilot program for support services for resource families – Dead, held on Suspense file in Senate Appropriations. Will be revived next session.
  • AB 1971: Reform of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act – Dead, ordered to inactive file by coauthor
  • AB 2018: Loan forgiveness program for public mental health professionals – Dead, held on Suspense File in Senate Appropriations
  • AB 2551: Forestry and fire prevention – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor

Senate Bills

  • SB 320: Medication abortion at public universities – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor
  • SB 822: Net Neutrality – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor
  • SB 901: Wildfires – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor
  • SB 906: Mental health service, peer support specialist certification – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor
  • SB 1004: Mental Health Services Act: prevention and early intervention – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor
  • SB 1113: Mental health in the workplace: voluntary standards – Signed into law by Governor Brown
  • SB 1421: Public access to police records – Enrolled, awaiting final action from the Governor

For those of you keeping score at home, that leaves us with an updated count of 1 bill signed into law, 6 dead before reaching the Governor, and 8 waiting for Governor Brown to either sign, veto, or pocket sign them.

By: Katie Young

The 2017 California wildfires were some of the largest and most destructive on record. The Tubbs fire in Sonoma burned 5,643 structures and was responsible for twenty–two deaths. The Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties burned 281,893 acres and was the largest in California’s history until this summer’s Mendocino Complex fires overtook it at 459,102 acres. This destruction is occurring despite California’s investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in fire suppression over the last five years.

Assembly Members Jim Wood (D – Healdsberg) and Jim Patterson (R – Fresno) proposed AB 2551 as a response to these fires. The bill addresses one of underlying problems leading to California’s wildfire epidemic – forest health. Scientists and policy makers are realizing that the policy of the total suppression of fire in California has contributed to the conditions necessary for the recent trend of huge catastrophic wildfires. California forests burn regularly as part of the ecosystem’s natural function. The suppression of natural wildfire and other poor forest management decisions has led to densely packed forests with unhealthy trees that are less resilient to drought, climate change, pests, and fire.

In its original form, the bill served the dual purpose of promoting more “prescribed fire” through cooperative agreements between CalFire and private landowners and by creating a new Forest and Wildland Health Improvement and Fire Prevention Program. The latter program was intended to promote forest and wildland health, restoration, and resilience as well as improve fire outcomes, prevention, and preparedness throughout the state.  The latest amended version of the bill eliminated the program focused on forest health, likely due to budget concerns, and AB 2551 now focuses solely on making it slightly easier for landowners to work with CalFire to bring low intensity fire back on to their land, and hopefully reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the future.

AB 2551 is supported by a variety of groups including: environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife, land trusts and conservation districts, state parks, local business interests, and insurance organizations. There are no groups opposing this bill.

AB 2551 has been enrolled and was presented to the Governor on September 10th, 2018.

To learn more about SB 822, listen to my interview on “In Session,” a podcast from the University of the Pacific Law Review.

Katie Young is a staff writer for the University of the Pacific Law Review and law student student at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

On today’s episode of The CAP·impact Podcast we talk with Erin Evans-Fudem – a Legislative Representative at the League of California Cities, and McGeorge class of 2012 – about the wildfires across California, some of the factors that have led to the surge in wildfires recently, and the issue of liability – specifically as it pertains to shareholder owned utilities like PG&E.

On that liability front, we walk through the legal doctrine called “inverse condemnation” – which is the current standard used in California when it comes to liability – some of the proposals the Legislature is working on to address the issue, and what cities are particularly concerned about on this issue.

As always, if you enjoyed today’s episode, please take the time to leave us a five-star rating on iTunes or Apple Podcasts and subscribe to our show wherever you listen to podcasts. All of that helps other people find the show.

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And last but not least, you can learn more about the Capital Center for Law and Policy at McGeorge School of Law here.