While skies all over California were turned strange colors by fire and smoke on September 11, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2147 into law. Passed by a 51-12 majority in the Assembly and a unanimous 30-0 vote in the Senate, this law creates new Penal Code section 1203.4b, designed to make it easier for inmates trained in firefighting in the Conservation Camp Program or on a county hand crew to gain employment as professional firefighters after release.
In partnership with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as CAL-FIRE, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations operates 44 minimum security Conservation Camps, where inmates who volunteer for the program receive the same entry-level training as CAL-FIRE’s seasonal firefighters and ongoing training during their time in the program. Inmate firefighters in the Conservation Camp program have assisted in fighting the Pocket, Tubbs, Atlas, Camp, and Kincade fires.
Historically, despite the state’s investment in training these individuals in firefighting skills, formerly incarcerated persons who participated in the Conservation Camp program have struggled to find employment as municipal firefighters. This stems, at least in part, from the fact that their conviction history prevents them from obtaining EMT certifications.
Penal Code section 1203.4b, which will take effect January 1, 2021, will allow certain persons with criminal convictions who have been released from custody to file a petition for relief in court. If the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations or the appropriate county authority certifies the defendant has successfully completed the firefighting program, the court may, in its discretion and in the interests of justice, issue an order expunging the conviction, with certain restrictions.
Defendants who were convicted of murder, kidnapping, rape, any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment, any sex offense requiring registration as a sex offender, escape from a secure perimeter in the last 10 years, or (wisely) arson are not eligible for relief under AB 2147. Likewise, persons convicted of these crimes are not eligible to participate in the Conservation Camp Program.
A defendant who receives an order under this section will not be required to disclose the expunged conviction on an application for licensure by any state or local agency except if applying for a teaching credential, a position as a peace officer, a public office, or a contract with the California State Lottery Commission. Therefore, he or she would not need to disclose his or her conviction to become an EMT.
An expungement order will not allow a former inmate who would otherwise be prohibited from holding public office to do so. Likewise, a former inmate’s being granted relief under the new law does not permit them to own, possess, or have in their custody or control any firearm.