Occupational Licensing

California's Inmate Firefighters May Soon Be Allowed To Continue Their Careers After Release

Harsh occupational license rules locked them out, except when they were locked up. A new bill just passed to change the rules.

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A summer heat wave led to another round of wildfires in California which drew attention to the state's dependence on prison inmates as firefighters and the terrible fact that licensing regulations stop these men and women from continuing this work after they're freed.

But that may change with A.B. 2147, which lawmakers just passed on August 30 and now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature. The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes (D–San Bernardino), creates a process for former inmates to get their records expunged when they're released so that they can qualify for a state license to fight fires professionally.

Currently, California's oppressive licensing laws prevent former inmates from being able to earn the proper emergency technician license because they have criminal records. But every summer, when the wildfires grow out of control, the state depends on current inmates (who earn $1 per hour) to assist firefighting crews. Over the past couple of years, there's been more and more media attention paid to the outrage that these people cannot pursue firefighting as a career after they're released.

In June, Reyes introduced A.B. 2147 to fix this problem. Her bill establishes a process of relief for inmates who have participated in one of these "hand crews" successfully (meaning they didn't get booted out of the program for misconduct). Inmates convicted of certain crimes (like murder, kidnapping, rape, sex offenses, and, of course, arson) are not eligible.

"If we are willing to allow an incarcerated person to volunteer and help fight fires—protecting lives and property while putting their lives at risk; then we should be willing to allow those same individuals an opportunity to receive an expungement which can be granted after judicial review," she wrote in June after introducing the bill.

The bill doesn't stop with just letting former convicts legally fight fires. There are more than 40 occupations in California where people with criminal records are shut out of occupational licenses. A.B. 2147 will allow these former prisoners to work on getting licenses in these other careers, though they'll still be blocked from working as teachers, police officers, or elected officials.

Firefighters unions had been resisting this push to let inmates become professionals after they're released, but according to Erika D. Smith, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, Reyes managed to satisfy them with this bill. It passed unanimously through the state's Senate and 51-12 in the Assembly.

Now it's up to Newsom to decide whether to sign the bill. He absolutely should, of course, allow these people to return to the workforce after their release.

NEXT: Should Civil Defendants Accused of Sexual Assault Be Allowed to Proceed Pseudonymously?

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  1. ” . . . or elected officials.”

    But who then can run for office?

    1. Only current and future criminals, not former ones. They are disqualified for being caught, not for being criminals.

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  3. Yeah you already have to be a cop to commit crimes.

  4. See, Kamala HELPED those people she left in jail for cheap fire fighting work.

  5. Yesterday, while flipping OTA channels, I stopped for a bit on some local news that was showing a clip of a reporter asking Trump a question. The question was basically, “do you believe that systemic racism is a problem.” Trump never answered the question and went on about rioting. This was the probably the best thing he could do in the moment. Man, did that reporter find the perfect wedge for Trump supporters or what. Any accurate answer that Trump gives would drive some of his supporters off. Next time someone asks that sort of question, Trump really needs to, without saying the word systemic ever, attack Critical Social Justice Theory by name. “The whole purpose of Critical Theory is to divide people. When you throw around their terminology, your goal is to divide. So why don’t you take your fake, loaded questions and shove them up your Marxist ass?” This should be the general gist of any response to this sort of bullshit question.

    1. So do you think that “systemic racism” is not a thing?

      What is your definition of “systemic racism”?

      1. What is your definition of “systemic racism”?

        why don’t you take your fake, loaded questions and shove them up your Marxist ass?

        Hey, that does feel better. 🙂

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      2. What is your definition of “systemic racism”?

        That’s the whole point. There is no concrete definition. It’s a term that allows an interlocutor to move goalposts and employ motte and bailey rhetorical tactics. It’s almost never a good faith argument.

    2. There are two ways to look at the concept of racism.

      One way is to treat it as a property of individuals. That a person could possess the property of racism based on his/her beliefs about the inferiority/superiority of members of certain races over others.

      Another way is to treat it as a property of structures or institutions. That an institution is organized in such a way to operate as if one race is superior/inferior to other races, even if none of the members of that institution are individually racist.

      We see this type of thinking all the time when it comes to government, for example. Most of us think of government as an institution that sucks away people’s liberties. That is what it is set up to do. Even if every individual working in government in government were a hardcore libertarian, if those individuals operated within the system and obeyed its rules as they are currently constituted, the system itself would still be taking away your liberties despite the principled beliefs of the people working there.

      Another example:
      If you replaced everyone in the military with principled pacifists, and you told all of those pacifists to obey every currently existing rule that the military now operates under, those pacifist soldiers would do just as much killing as the ones currently do today. Because the military itself operates under a set of rules that does not tolerate that type of principled pacifism. It doesn’t really matter what each individual soldier believes on the subject.

      So IMO there is nothing wrong with discussing the concept of “systemic racism” per se. We just shouldn’t let the discussion be completely hijacked by left-wing activists who want the term to mean something that libertarians would never support.

      1. So it is possible for an institution or an organization to be “systemically racist” even if none of the individuals working at the organization are individually racist in their beliefs, just like it is possible for the military to be “anti-pacifist” even if every individual working there were individually pacifist. We shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this sort of thing isn’t possible. We don’t need more yelling and carping about OMG SOCIAL JUSTICE CRITICAL RACE THEORY WARRIORS, we need more level-headed discussion on this entire topic. If right-wingers refuse to engage in the topic in any meaningful level, then that guarantees that we will be left with a left-wing dominated discussion only. UNLESS there are other contributors to the discussion who will make the point that while racism is bad, it is even worse to trammel upon everyone’s liberty in the name of fighting racism.

        1. So what organizations are “systemically racist” and what rules that they operate under make them that way?

          Bonus question: Who put those rules in place?

          1. Well let’s take a look at public education for starters. It is funded primarily by local property taxes. Rich areas get great schools, poor areas get crappy schools. To the extent that minorities tend to live in poorer areas, they disproportionately get the crappy schools. It is “racist” in the sense of having a big role in producing unequal racial outcomes in education.

            What made it that way? It has just evolved over the past 200 years. I don’t think there was any conscious decision made at some point by someone to say “hey, let’s create a public education system that purposefully screws black kids”. Surely actual racists have manipulated the system from time to time to serve an explicitly racist outcome (as in the Jim Crow South) but as far as I can tell anyway, the overall public education funding system itself was not purposefully designed to have racist outcomes. Instead it was designed with local control in mind. Local taxpayers are the stakeholders for the local schools and so that’s how the system was set up. And it’s not a bad idea. It’s a good idea in a lot of ways. But it can have some unintended consequences as well.

            Democrats tend to want to keep the system itself intact and just give it more money. I don’t think that’s a very good idea. Republicans want to have vouchers, which is a better idea, but it doesn’t inherently change the funding model itself, and it still maintains state control of the schools. The libertarian idea is far better IMO – fully privatize all the schools and have vouchers for parents among all of the private options.

            1. The public education example you provided is classist, not racist. However, the almost totally and uniquely Democrat and union resistance to school choice, while they simultaneously claim that the school quality is racist makes them racist (if they’re being internally consistent, which is physically impossible for them).

      2. There are two ways to look at the concept of racism.

        One way is to treat it as a property of individuals.

        Which it almost always is.

        Another way is to treat it as a property of structures or institutions.

        It’s existed in the past in the form of Jim Crow laws and segregation. That’s explicit systemic racism. Using the same criteria, you’d have to admit that affirmative action is also systemic racism.

        That an institution is organized in such a way to operate as if one race is superior/inferior to other races, even if none of the members of that institution are individually racist.

        Without doing it explicitly, it comes off as a conspiracy theory. If you want to argue that disparate or disproportionate outcomes means that there is systemic racism, that’s a hypothesis, not a conclusion. There are other explanations for the outcomes that don’t involve racism at all. If you can spot racism in these circumstances, it will invariably be individual racism, not “systemic.”

        Even if every individual working in government in government were a hardcore libertarian, if those individuals operated within the system and obeyed its rules as they are currently constituted, the system itself would still be taking away your liberties despite the principled beliefs of the people working there.

        But those rules are very clear about what they are doing. They spell out how they are sucking away liberty. Current accusations of systemic racism stem from perceived disparate outcomes, not from anything explicitly written.

        1. Without doing it explicitly, it comes off as a conspiracy theory.

          Not really. I mean it could be, but it doesn’t have to be some conspiracy theory. Here’s another example: the transportation system, and pollution. Do you drive? Probably. Because like most people who don’t live in NYC, you have little choice but to drive everywhere. When you do that, you are contributing to pollution. Was the road system set up to purposefully pollute the planet? No. So even if all of us are the biggest most radical environmentalists, it’s very difficult to escape the system we are currently in that contributes to pollution via transportation.

          1. You’re talking about outcomes versus intentions. Saying that an action is racist is talking about the actor’s intentions.

  6. California’s Inmate Firefighters May Soon Be Allowed To Continue Their Careers After Release

    Including the ones in for arson?

    1. No, the arsonists are specifically prohibited by the bill. Which is odd, for a couple of reasons.

      1. The only people who qualify are the ones who served competently on one of the inmate firefighting squads. So, are arsonists allowed on those? If not, why the specific prohibition? If so . . .

      2. One would think that a former arsonist would potentially know a thing or two about fires. One who has repented and used his knowledge to fight fires as an inmate would seem to be potentially useful as a firefighter after his sentence is completed.

    2. This is dumb. Arsonists aren’t allowed to participate on fire crews… There’s a thing called google where you can look up things like this.

  7. Well, this is a step in the right direction.

    1. Punish bigger criminals! No bigger criminal fire fighters! They will steal the house and truck!

  8. So will this expungement allow them to become firefighters in other states, or are the slaves to the People’s Republic of California?

  9. I wonder how difficult it will be in practice to have the convictions expunged

    I also notice it doesn’t restore 2A rights

  10. Yea let nigger criminals be fire fighters! What could possibly go wrong? Other than them committing a crime while on the job, such as arson or stealing from the house while the house is on fire?

    1. Fuck right off out of here with that racist bullshit. And the horse you rode in on

  11. Fire fighting is a very well paid career with sweet bennies. Looks like prison is a viable career path. Good job, CA.

  12. This is long overdue. What’s the point of training someone for a job he won’t be able to do? It’s not like the guys on fire crews are killers and rapists, they’re minimum security locked up for stuff like drugs, theft, and DUIs. Society should try to rehabilitate them, both for altruistic and practical reasons.

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  14. If you’re going to mention the $1 an hour in some snide remark about benefits for prisoner firefighters, you should mention the much more important benefits they get:

    1) Inmates are given 2 days of time served for every 1 day of fighting fires
    2) Inmates on fire fighting duty get much better food than they are normally served in prison
    3) Wildland fire fighting, while exhausting and dangerous, is undoubtedly much more interesting and satisfying than sitting around in a prison all day, not to mention the pride in actually helping the community and keeping people safe

  15. “Firefighters unions had been resisting this push to let inmates become professionals after they’re released, but according to Erika D. Smith, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, Reyes managed to satisfy them with this bill.”

    hmm. what did she promise them??

  16. Looks like prison is a viable career path

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