2021 Key Legislation Update – As of October 10, 2021
By Brian White, KP Public Affairs
This year marked the first year of California’s 2021-22 legislative session, which ended on September 10. While nearly 2,200 bills were introduced earlier in the year, more than half of them were shelved making them two-year bills and eligible for consideration in 2022. At the same time, the legislative session coincided with a yearlong recall vote of Governor Newsom who ultimately beat the recall just days after the Legislature concluded its end-of-session.
Ultimately, the recall failed by a margin of nearly 24 percentage points (62% against and 38% in support) despite more than a million disgruntled voters who signed the recall petition as they sought to remove Newsom from office. Why does that matter? Because voters sent a fairly clear signal that Newsom will likely win another term when he is up for re-election in November 2022, assuming there are no significant negative events or stories impacting the Governor’s standing. This will also dictate how aggressive the Governor pushes certain issues next year since there were several that impacted the 2021 legislative process and voter’s opinions, including mandatory COVID restrictions, prolonged wildfires, delayed welfare payments, school closures and the ongoing drought. These events ultimately impacted the bills that were sent to the Governor for his signature or veto as several stakeholder groups scrambled to get their last-minute position letters into his office. In the end, the Governor acted on more than 800 bills where he signed 92% of them into law and only vetoed 66 bills, most of which were signed after the recall vote.
Of those bills enacted, several address climate change, forestry and wildfire-related issues. This was not particularly surprising given the backdrop of record wildfire outbreaks, heat waves and the ongoing drought. This includes legislation FLC actively supported, including bills to extend the 300-foot THP defensible space exemption for four years (AB 431 - Patterson); a bill providing liability protection for fire suppression costs associated with prescribed burns (SB 332 – Dodd); and legislation providing two, two-year extensions for a THP approved between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2015 (SB 709 – Dahle). Several other bills FLC monitored were enacted to address home hardening and defensible space that will provide Cal Fire and the State Fire Marshall additional authority to address building codes and minimize threats in extreme and high fire severity zones. Also of note is a recently released report from the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) that provides recommendations on how to improve defensible space. The LAO report is linked here - defensible-space-093021.pdf, and a final list of key 2021 bills FLC tracked is at the end of this article.
However, most of the attention this year focused on the 2021-22 budget process since California was flush with a record $50 billion budget surplus. Legislators were more focused on pushing bill ideas through the budget process but there were no significant forestry policy bills enacted through the budget. The key budget actions on forestry primarily complemented separate policy bills by providing significant new funding of nearly $1.5 billion for forestry and wildfire programs, including a total of $50 million for the CFIP program; a six-year $200 million continuous appropriation from the cap-and-trade program to fund wildfire prevention; and a new prescribed fire insurance fund to help cover the costs of prescribed burns. These budget actions complimented the $536 million approved earlier in the year as an early action item for wildfire prevention, natural resources and forest resiliency.
In the end, FLC fared very well in the 2021 legislative session with the enactment of the defensible space exemption, limited liability relief for prescribed burns and funding for CFIP. Looking forward to 2022, forest management and wildfire issues aren’t going away, and there are still some policy areas that need to be addressed to help streamline the permitting process. Several two-year bills are still eligible to be taken up but it remains to be seen if there will be any real movement from the Democrat-dominated committees despite continued concerns about excessive fuel loads and the need for better forest management. The ongoing challenges of affordable housing, energy reliability and response to COVID vaccine mandates will likely dominate the legislative agenda at least for the short term so it remains to be seen what actions legislators will promote on forestry in an election year.
Governor Newsom and several legislators will turn their attention to preparing for the 2022 elections since the Governor is up for reelection as well as all 80 members of the Assembly and several senators. An independent redistricting commission is also in the process of releasing new legislative maps at the end of the year that will determine new district boundaries and have an impact on who runs in the future. The Governor is also preparing for a new budget cycle where he will release a proposed 2022-23 budget in January. Early indications from the LAO and the Department of Finance suggest the state will likely witness a sizeable budget surplus again as tax revenues from high wage earners continues to keep the General Fund stable. Meanwhile, the Governor and legislators are also preparing to move into new office space in November at the newly built Capitol Annex, which is located across the street from the State Capitol as it undergoes a three-year renovation. As the Legislature prepares to reconvene for the start of a new session on January 3, 2022, its first action will be a scramble to pass 2021 bills from their house of origin by January 31. Rest assured, FLC will be actively watching these bills and any new ones that get introduced by the end of February deadline.
|AB 267||Valladares||Deletes the sunset date for the CEQA exemptions for prescribed fire, thinning or fuel reduction projects that have been reviewed under NEPA and undertaken on federal lands.||Held In Senate Natura Resources & Water
|AB 322||Salas||Requires the CEC to consider, in the state’s investment planning process for EPIC funding, bioenergy projects for biomass conversion.||Signed Chapter 229||Support|
|AB 642||Friedman||Incorporates provisions for cultural burning practices, and expands the areas where enhanced fire safety building standards apply||Signed Chapter 375||Watch|
|AB 431||Patterson||Extends the sunset for the 150-300 defensible space exemption until January 1, 2026.||Signed Chapter 230||Support|
|AB 792||Flora||Requires prescribed fires initiated at CalFIRE’s request, with the consent of the landowner, to be CalFIRE’s responsibility regardless of whether you are a nonprofit, public agency or private landowner.||Held in Assembly Fiscal Committee DEAD||Support|
|AB 926||Mathis||Adds roadside vegetation management and projects to the eligible list of activities for a local assistance grant program.||Held in Assembly Fiscal
|SB 332||Dodd||Provides that a certified burn boss and a private landowner are not liable fire suppression costs because of a prescribed burn unless it was conducted in a grossly negligent manner.||Signed Chapter 600||Support|
|SB 396||Dahle||Revises the requirements for the “fire toolbox” and requires the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety (OEIS) to develop standardized content related to procedures which allows utilities to traverse and clear vegetation from private lands in order to maintain operation of electrical transmission or distribution lines.||Assembly Floor 2-Year Bill||Watch|
|SB 709||Dahle||Authorizes up to two 2-year extensions for a timber harvest plan approved between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2015, if specified conditions are met. Urgency clause added requires 2/3 vote.||Signed Chapter 734||Support|
|SB 45||Portantino||Enacts a $5.5 billion bond to finance projects for wildfire prevention, safe drinking water, drought preparedness and flood protection.||Senate Floor 2-Year Bill||Watch|
|SB 63||Stern||Requires the state to identify high and moderate fire hazard severity zones, and expand appropriate building standards to those zones||Signed Chapter 382||Watch|
|SB 12||McGuire||Requires cities or counties that contain very high fire risk areas to amend their land use element and prohibits a city or county with a very high fire risk area from entering into a development agreement without meeting specified fire risk standards.||Failed Assembly Housing
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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: