Fire insurance subject of many bills

On Thursday, Sept. 20, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed 29 bills that affect the state’s preparation or response to wildfire, or the relation between individuals and fire insurance firms.

The most important bill, with breadth of import, was Senate Bill 901. “Wildfires in California aren’t going away, and we have to do everything possible to prevent them. This bill is complex and requires investment — but it’s absolutely necessary,” said Brown.

The 100-page bill authorizes utilities and the state to do more to prevent and prepare for wildfires. Investor-owned utilities will have to file more comprehensive plans about their actions to prepare for wildfires and for when the fires threaten equipment, such as providing protocols for de-energizing electric lines.

It appropriates $200 million annually for five years for forest health, fire prevention and fuel reduction. This would be used for thinning and more frequent prescribed burns.

The bill also creates new exemptions in the Forest Practice Act to encourage and make tree harvesting easier and more effective. The largest trees on each site would be protected. The exemptions are for fuel reduction and small landowners.

The other bills dealt with insurance, prescribed burns, grants and other issues originating with wildfire prevention or combat.

For example, SB 824 prohibits an insurer from canceling or refusing to renew a homeowner’s insurance policy for one year from the date of a declaration of emergency.

SB 917 requires insurers to cover a loss resulting from a combination of disasters, such as landslide, mudslide, mudflow or debris flow, if an insured disaster such as a wildfire is the cause of the loss or damage, which would have been covered under that insurance.

Regarding grant funding from the state, SB 1079 will allow Cal Fire to make advance payments to grantees (such as fire safe councils) which receive funds from the healthy forest and local fire-prevention grant programs.

Several new task forces or commissions are established to investigate some issues further. Assembly Bill 2091 wants the governor’s Forest Management Task Force and the Department of Insurance to come up with recommendations to reduce the cost of conducting prescribed burns and AB 2551 allows Cal Fire to now agree to do prescribed burns jointly with private landowners.

“The Senate worked diligently this year to find common sense solutions to wildfires that have now become a regular feature of life in California. Every Senate district is touched by the consequences of a warming climate and the wildfires that come with it,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins.

“Catastrophic wildfires have disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians due to decades of neglect and failure to manage our forests and wildlands. This legislation is an important step toward safeguarding lives, property and the state’s watersheds,” said Sen. Jim Nielsen.

And individuals must be cognizant of how to prepare and to evacuate in case an emergency requires this action. To help ensure that people are not trapped, SB 969 requires residential automatic garage door openers have a backup battery that is designed to operate during an electrical outage and prohibits replacement garage doors from being installed without backup batteries.

“With the threat of more wildfires to come, we must do everything possible to keep people safe. I thank Gov. Brown for recognizing the importance of this bill,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, the bill’s author.

The senator is personally aware of the peril posed by power failures in the face of emergencies. He was forced to evacuate his own Napa home the night of the fall fires and could not open his heavy wooden garage door because power was out in his neighborhood, according to Dodd’s press release.

“Most people don’t think about this until it is too late,” Dodd said. “My goal with this bill is to raise awareness and give people the security of a battery backup.”