As California has faced its most devastating wildfire season on record, nearly a third of the people on the frontlines have been state prisoners. Despite their firsthand experience, many incarcerated people couldn’t become firefighters after being released. A new California law aims to change that and make it easier to hire formerly incarcerated firefighters.

Until now, formerly incarcerated people couldn’t apply to be firefighters in many parts of California until they finished their parole —which averages about three years.

And they also had to list their criminal history on license applications.

The new law allows former prisoners who participated in fire programs to immediately apply to have their records expunged. 

Depending on a court’s ruling, the offenses on their record could be erased helping pave the way toward fire certification.

Studies have shown that the barriers that make it harder for people to get job licenses or a job ultimately drives more people back to prison.

The California District Attorneys Association fought against this idea, arguing that it allows people with serious criminal sentences to have their records cleared. And inmates in fire camp already receive certain benefits, such as time off their sentences. 

But supporters note that even under the new law, people convicted of crimes such as murder, kidnapping, and rape won’t be eligible to get their records expunged.

Democratic Assemblymember Eloise Reyes of San Bernardino — who penned the new law — says those who are committed to turning their lives around deserve a second chance.

Fewer laws than usual will take effect in 2021, given that the coronavirus pandemic shortened and dominated the Legislature’s 2020 session. Here’s a playlist of nine of the most notable new California laws, each explained in a minute.

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Nick Roberts is a journalist and video producer based in the Bay Area. His work has been published by The New York Times, PBS Frontline, Oregon Public Broadcasting, among others. He holds a master’s...

Elizabeth is a general assignment reporter for CalMatters. She graduated from Chico State with a bachelor's degree in journalism. While in college at Chico, Elizabeth did internships with the local NPR...