Legislative Update – Summer 2023
By Brian White, FLC Legislative Advocate
With about three months left in the first year of the 2023-24 legislative session, the Legislature continues to debate hundreds of bills with many of them moving over to the second house. Of the 2,600 bills that were introduced earlier in the year, hundreds have been put on hold but there remains about 1,000 bills that are still alive as they survived the June 2 house of origin deadline. These bills will now be scrutinized with additional analysis as the Legislature approaches a July 14 deadline to move bills out of second-house policy committees in the Senate and Assembly Floors, and ultimately a September 14 deadline for all bills to pass the Legislature for Governor Newsom’s consideration. Below are some of the key forestry and wildfire-related bills FLC is monitoring with recommended positions.
In addition, the Legislature and the Governor are focused on enacting a state budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year. On June 15, Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly passed their two-house budget agreement to address the state’s $32 billion budget deficit. Governor Newsom will have until June 30 to sign off on a final budget deal before the start of a new fiscal year, which begins July 1. While Democrats have yet to strike a budget deal with the Governor, their spending priorities are included in SB 101 (Skinner), which legislators passed under a simple majority vote on a party line basis so they could meet their constitutional deadline and continue to get paid. The Legislature will likely revisit the budget again in September since billions of dollars in delayed tax payments won’t be known until October because many taxpayers were granted an extension to file taxes due to several counties hit hard by the winter storms.
Until the Governor signs the budget, legislative leaders will continue hammering out their differences to meet the June 30 signature deadline, but there are various funding and policy proposals, including proposals to streamline CEQA for various infrastructure projects that have been met with significant opposition from Democrats and environmental groups. Democrats are also seeking to restore more than $1 billion in climate change funds that the Governor proposed cutting to help solve the state’s budget deficit where he proposed to cover the funding from a yet-to-be approved climate bond that may appear before the voters in 2024. Some of the key funding highlights from the Legislature’s budget plan in the resource and wildfire areas include maintaining nearly $3 billion provided druing the last four budget cycles for wildfire and forest resilience funds; restores $5 million for defensible inspectors at CalFIRE; restores $5 million for monitoring and research at CalFIRE; and provides a $5 million funding increase to fund biomass transportation costs.
Last, it should be noted there will be some changes in the Assembly with an expected leadership change that will occur on June 30 as the Democrat Caucus selected Central Coast Assembly Member Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) to become the new Assembly Speaker taking over the leadership role from Los Angeles area Assembly Member Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) who has presided as Assembly Speaker for the last seven years but is termed out in 2024.
AB 338 (Aguiar-Curry) would make it more challenging and costly to reduce future catastrophic wildfires by expanding the definition of “public works” to include “publicly funded fuel reduction work” that is done under contract as part of a fire mitigation project and falls within an approved apprenticeship program in the building and construction trades. This would include the payment of prevailing wage for any fuel reduction work done under contract exceeding $100,000 that is “paid in whole or in part out public funds” as part of a fire mitigation project such as rural road fuel breaks, tree thinning, vegetation management, and fire breaks. There will be significant state costs to CalFIRE to ensure grantees comply with public works law, increase state General Fund costs, and put cost pressure on greenhouse gas reduction funds to fund more fuel reduction projects. Last year, Governor Newsom vetoed a similar bill but requested CalFIRE to work with the author on reaching a possible solution. However, a large coalition of forestry groups, including FLC, local governments, resource conservation districts, and utility union employees remain opposed to the bill. OPPOSE / LOCATION: Senate Labor Committee
AB 998 (Connolly) would among other things, require the California Energy Commission to issue a comprehensive report by December 31, 2024, on utility-scale biomass combustion facilities still in operation as of January 1, 2024, including: 1) an assessment of biomass facilities that are able to process forest biomass and material resulting from vegetation management and forest treatment projects; 2) an assessment of the role that each biomass facility can play in achieving the state’s forest health improvement and wildfire risk reduction objectives; 3) a strategy to modernize or upgrade biomass combustion facilities while considering impacts to disadvantaged communities, rural forested or agricultural communities, and job creation; and 4) recommendations on how to replace baseload power if these biomass facilities ceased operation. WATCH / LOCATION: Senate Appropriations Committee
AB 625 (Aguiar-Curry) would among other things, codify recommendations in the state’s Forest Biomass Utilization Plan, including establishment of the Forest Waste Biomass Utilization Program at the Board of Forestry to help increase the use of forest biomass waste and develop a workforce training program; require the California Air Resources Board to include emissions from wildfires, pile burning and forest management activities in the GHG emissions inventory; and require the California Public Utilities Commission to indefinitely extend the BioMAT program beyond the 2025 sunset until the allotted 250 MW are procured. SUPPORT / LOCATION: Held in Assembly Appropriations Committee – Failed
AB 297 (Fong) would extend from January 1, 2024, to January 1, 2034, the CalFire Director’s authority to use advance payments from a grant program to fund fire prevention and home hardening education activities. SUPPORT / LOCATION: Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee
AB 692 (Patterson) would exempt from CEQA, until January 1, 2030, an egress route project undertaken by a public agency to improve emergency access to and from a subdivision without a secondary egress route if the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has recommended the creation of a secondary access to the subdivision and certain conditions are met. SUPPORT / LOCATION: Held in Assembly Appropriations Committee - Failed
AB 1554 (Patterson) would expressly exempt from CEQA fuels reduction projects in areas within moderate, high and very high fire hazard severity zones. WATCH/Location: Two-year bill
AB 388 (Connolly) would require the CalFire Director to establish a roadmap for developing and deploying larger landscape level projects to achieve the goals outlined in the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan and authorizes CalFIRE to award regional forest health and fire resilience block grants. SUPPORT / LOCATION: Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee
SB 436 (Dodd) would require the Office of Energy Infrastructure (Office) to prepare a Wildfire Risk Baseline and Forecast for the state by April 1, 2025, and every three (3) years thereafter; would also require the forecast to establish key risk metrics for wildfire risk for the entire state; and would require OES to prepare a Wildfire Risk Mitigation Planning Framework by January 1, 2025, and every three (3) years thereafter, that quantitatively evaluates wildfire risk mitigation actions. The wildfire mitigation plan would be used to hold electrical corporations accountable for reducing wildfire risks. WATCH CLOSE / LOCATION: Held in Senate Appropriations Committee
AB 1159 (Aguiar-Curry) would prohibit natural and working lands projects and actions that receive state funding from being eligible to generate credits under any market-based compliance mechanism for any GHG emissions reduced or removed as a result of the state funding. WATCH / LOCATION: Senate Environmental Quality Committee
SB 610 (Wiener) would among other things, require a local agency to make a finding of necessity supported by substantial evidence in the record when including, as a moderate or high fire hazard severity zone, a zone not so identified by the State Fire Marshal. The bill would also eliminate the prohibition on local agencies decreasing the level of fire hazard severity zone as identified by the State Fire Marshal and would authorize a local agency, at its discretion, to exclude areas within the jurisdiction of the local agency, identified by the State Fire Marshal as moderate, high and very high fire hazard severity zones, from designation as moderate, high and very high fire hazard severity zones, respectively, following a finding supported by substantial evidence in the record of the necessity of the exclusion. WATCH / LOCATION: Assembly Utilities and Energy
AB 1526 (Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee) an omnibus resource code cleanup bill that would among other things, adopt regulations allowing a waiver of the one-time limitation that authorizes the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to exempt from some or all the provisions of the act, a person that engages in specified forest management activities, including the one-time conversion of less than three acres to a nontimber use. The bill would authorize the Board of Forestry to adopt regulations for a waiver of the one-time limitation, including a process for an appeal of a denial of a waiver. WATCH / LOCATION: Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee
SB 867 (Allen) would enact a $15 billion general obligation bond known as the Drought, Flood, and Water Resilience, Wildfire, and Forest Resilience, Coastal Resilience, Extreme Heat Mitigation, Biodiversity, and Nature-Based Climate Solutions, Climate Smart Agriculture, Park Creation and Outdoor Access, and Clean Energy Bond Act of 2024. If approved by voters, it would fund projects for drought and water resilience, wildfire and forest resilience, coastal resilience, extreme heat mitigation, biodiversity and nature-based climate solutions, climate smart agriculture, park creation and outdoor access programs, and clean energy. The bond would provide $3 billion for wildfire prevention. WATCH / LOCATION: Assembly Natural Resources Committee
AB 1567 (Garcia) would enact the $15 billion Safe Drinking Water, Wildfire Prevention, Drought Preparation, Flood Protection, Extreme Heat Mitigation, and Workforce Development Bond Act of 2024, which, if approved by the voters at the March 5, 2024, statewide primary election, would authorize the issuance of bonds to finance projects for safe drinking water, wildfire prevention, drought preparation, flood protection, extreme heat mitigation, and workforce development programs. The bond would provide $2 billion for forest health. WATCH / LOCATION: Senate Natural Resources Committee
For a comprehensive list of bills and links to their details:
To view Brian White’s presentation at the Annual Meeting held in Ukiah:
Appellate Decision on WFMP Case
Good News -- Exemptions and NTMPs
CAL FIRE has reversed its policy change regarding the acceptance of exemptions for NTMPs. Please refer to the link below to view the letter from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Ken Pimlott) to the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Keith Gilless).
Should you have any questions, please send an email to the FLC Legislative Committee at email@example.com.
Letter and Supporting Content from CAL FIRE to Board of Forestry
Legislative Committee Assignments
Public Policy Institute of California
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) issued a report in mid-September on the status of forest health in the Headwaters Forests. On September 20, there was a panel debriefing on the report. Click on the links below to download the documents.
If you are interested in wathcing the panel debrief, the video is posted on the PPIC's website: