OROVILLE (CBS SF) — Standing where firefighters have battled one of the many major wildfires burning across the state, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday to remove barriers to inmate fire crews seeking careers as first responders once out of prison.

Newsom held a press conference at the site of the North Complex Fire and signed AB 2147, allow nonviolent offenders who have fought fires as members of prison fire camps to have their records expunged, which would pave the way for former inmates to find employment and further training as firefighters.

Former inmates are often prevented from applying for The bill would members of California Deparment of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) fire crews file a petition to both expunge their records and waive parole time, enabling careers in emergency response and a variety of other disciplines.

“Signing AB 2147 into law is about giving second chances. To correct is to right a wrong; to rehabilitate is to restore,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino) in a prepared statement. “Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism. We must get serious about providing pathways for those that show the determination to turn their lives around.”

“This legislation rights a historic wrong and recognizes the sacrifice of thousands of incarcerated people who have helped battle wildfires in our state, and I would like to thank the Legislature for passing this bill,” said Governor Newsom.

Until now, California law compelled emergency service agencies to deny EMT certification to anyone convicted of two or more felonies, on parole, or who has committed a felony within the last decade.

The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged inmate fire camps and cut the number of inmate fire crews from 192 to 94, according to Cal Fire. In July, Newsom said 12 inmate camps had to be quarantined due to the virus.

Early inmate releases due to COVID-19 infections has compounded the firefighter shortage as well as the state’s initiative to reduce incarceration for lower-level offenders, according to the CDCR.

Prior to signing the bill, Newsom placed the blame for the historic outbreak of wildfires squarely on climate change.

Currently, wildfires across Northern California have claimed at least 15 lives, destroyed hundreds of homes and laid to waste more than 3 million acres of land.

“If you don’t believe in science, I hope you believe in observed evidence,” Newsom said. “You walk around this community, you walk around Lake Oroville — you see a reality — a reality that has set in in this state in very indelible ways. That is we are in midst of a climate crisis. We are in the midst of a climate emergency.”

“We are experiencing weather conditions of the likes we’ve never experienced in our lifetime,” he added. “We are experiencing what so many people predicted decades and decades ago. But all of that now is reality.”

Newsom further emphasized his point by going through a litany of weather milestones just over the last several months.

“Mother Nature is physics, biology and chemistry,” Newsom said. “She bats last and she bats 1,000. That’s the reality was are facing. The smash-mouth reality. This perfect storm. The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes…The extreme droughts, the extreme atmospheric rivers, the extreme heat. Just think in the last few weeks alone we have experienced the hottest August in California history.”

“We had 14,000 dry lightning strikes over a three-day period,” he added. “We are experiencing world record breaking temperatures in the state of California — 130 degrees. We had 121-degree temperatures in LA County.”

Three of the top four wildfire outbreaks in state history — No. 1 August Complex, No 3. SCU Lightning Complex and No. 4 LNU Lightning Complex — were still burning as of Friday.

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