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As thousands of firefighters from Cal Fire battle blazes across the state, their union is trying to get them more money and better disability benefits.

On Tuesday, the Legislature approved a bill to bring Cal Fire disability benefits into line with other public safety officials.

Right now, Cal Fire firefighters can receive partial pay if they are temporarily disabled on the job. Police and even local firefighters in the state, however, get a full year of temporary disability pay.

The bill was written by San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins. It’s expected to cost an extra $4.7 million a year if signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Separately, Cal Fire’s union, Local 2881, is also trying to negotiate a salary increase.

Cal Fire firefighters earn significantly less than other city and local firefighters, according to a 2014 study by the California Department of Human Resources.

A rank-and-file Cal Fire firefighter, for instance, receives about $12,000 in total compensation per month – that’s base salary, planned overtime, vacation and other benefits. Local firefighters up and down the state get an average of $14,400 a month in total compensation, or about 30 percent more.

The same sort disparity doesn’t show up between state and local police. That’s because compensation for the California Highway Patrol is tied to the average compensation of four big city police departments and one county sheriff’s department, which means state police salaries go up whenever local police salaries go up. Cal Fire doesn’t have such a deal. Its wages and benefits have been lagging since at least 2006.

Randy Scales, the Cal Fire union leader for the San Diego region, said the state versus local pay disparity means Cal Fire loses people to other local departments.

Those losses may be contributing to other problems Cal Fire firefighters are complaining about, particularly long hours.

Ry Rivard

More Bills on to the Gov

On top of the Cal Fire bill, the Legislature passed a number of bills from local legislators this week, and they’re now awaiting a signature or veto from Gov. Jerry Brown.

I’m rounding up as many here as I can, but keep in mind there are approximately 1 bajillion bills and they’re moving fast as the session winds down, so this list may be incomplete.

AB 2466 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber restores voting rights for those convicted of a felony who are no longer in state prison or on parole.

The Sacramento Bee notes that the bill was prompted by a lawsuit from low-level offenders in Alameda County. “While Republican lawmakers largely objected to the bill as rewarding bad behavior, it passed with the support of Democrats, who argued it was necessary to comply with the court case,” according to the Bee.

AB 2177 by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein creates an advisory committee on how to spend federal funds intended for crime victims.

AB 717 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez repeals the sales tax on diapers.

AB 2470 by Gonzalez allows Sycuan to connect to a reliable source of water, which we explained here.

AB 1701 by Gonzalez is a procedural bill that deals with a lawsuit settlement against the state – carrying these bills is part of Gonzalez’s role as chair of the Appropriations Committee.

SB 1138 by Sen. Ben Hueso designates the first Friday in May as Space Day.

SB 1257 by Sen. Marty Block requires new lawyers to complete 50 hours of pro bono service before being admitted to the California State Bar. I broke the measure down in more detail here.

AB 59 by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron extends the sunset date of Laura’s Law for assisted outpatient treatment statutes for an additional five years.

SB 759 by Sen. Joel Anderson lets prisoners who have been placed in segregated housing units earn credits for good behavior.

SB 952 by Anderson lets aspiring pharmacy techs choose which group administers their certification test.

AJR 29 by Assemblyman Rocky Chavez urges the U.S. House to pass the Interim Consolidated Storage Act and urges the Department of Energy to safely relocate spent nuclear fuel from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. (This one’s a joint resolution, and doesn’t require the governor’s signature.)

Fast and Furious

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s bid to guarantee overtime pay for farmworkers died earlier this year, but came back to life in the form of a gut-and-amend bill. (That’s where a legislator takes an existing bill, cuts out all the language, and adds something totally new.)

This week, she drew attention to the measure through a 24-hour fast. A number of other legislators and advocates joined the effort.

Hunger strikes have historical roots in the movement to improve the lives of California farmworkers, notes the Union-Tribune:

The action has historical roots in the struggle to improve the lot of those working California’s fields. The late labor leader Cesar Chavez attracted attention and support to the farmworkers’ cause with hunger strikes, marches, boycotts and other actions for more than three decades beginning in the 1960s.

The fast began publicly around 8 a.m. Tuesday on the north steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento, with the conclusion planned today for 8 a.m. at the Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament, also in Sacramento. Among those participating is Andres Chavez, great-grandson of Cesar Chavez.

Golden State News

• This is a huge shift: There are now more registered Democrats in Riverside County than Republicans. (Orange County Register)

• The Legislature passed a bill this week that would rein in civil asset forfeitures – the process that allows cops to seize money and other valuables from people they stop even if those people are never convicted of a crime. (KQED)

 Gov. Jerry Brown’s housing plan is dead for now. (Sac Bee)

• The Legislature has ordered up an audit on the Commission on Judicial Performance, the state agency that oversees judges. (Union-Tribune)

• The New York Times editorial board is a fan of a California bill that would “automatically enroll most uncovered workers in individual retirement savings accounts.”

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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