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Commentary: New opportunities, new responsibilities

On Jan. 7, the state Legislature returned from winter break and officially began the 2019-20 session. Once again, the halls of the Capitol are filled with the hustle and bustle of legislators, staff and advocates already well at work on our plans to shape the state.

Right now, I’m working with my Capitol office at full speed, taking meetings and conducting research in order to finalize my legislative package for the year. This following a transformative election cycle that brought a record number of changes to offices at every level of government throughout our state, including a new administration with the election of Gov. Gavin Newsom. And I have some changes of my own that I would like to announce, changes that not only affect my office but our district. Upon returning, I was given a great opportunity by Speaker Anthony Rendon. I have been asked to serve as the chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

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The Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over all legislation moving through the Assembly that pertains to air quality, climate change, energy efficiency, renewable energy, the California Environmental Quality Act, coastal protection, forestry, land conservation, oil spills, as well as solid waste and recycling. The committee is responsible for weighing all the impacts, positive and negative, that legislation will have on the natural world — our forests, waterways, coastline, air, earth, natural habitats and more.

We couldn’t live in a more pressing time for these matters. It is no secret that our world is being severely impacted by climate change and the resulting disasters. The work the committee will be tasked with will have significant impacts not only on our present, but for generations to come. As the chair of this committee, it will be my job to set the agenda, when and what bills are to be heard, and to play a large role in setting the panel’s overall priorities.

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One of the key areas that is our responsibility to take a hard look at is wildfire prevention, as well as recovery from fires. As one of the many consequences of climate change, we are seeing precipitation levels alter dramatically from historical trends. With that, the lands that are home to communities throughout California are at a rapidly increasing risk of severe, disaster-level, fires. From Butte County to the hills of our district, to the forests and mountains surrounding Redding and Santa Rosa, we have already seen devastation.

I believe a holistic look at prevention and recovery efforts should be a paramount priority of the committee. Last year, I carried AB 2911, which was signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. This law made crucial changes to how communities plan for fires. In this session, we can expect the focus on prevention and protection to continue. Gov. Newsom already included in his budget proposal new resources to help CalFire and others respond to these growing threats, including new funds for fuel reduction, equipment and staffing. When disaster strikes, we need to ensure that we are properly equipped. But what about preventing these disasters in the first place? Are there steps we can take to help homeowners protect their homes? Are there incentives we can create to encourage retrofitting, customizing defensible space guidelines to address urban homeowners in critical fire zones? Resiliency and mitigation are essential, but it’s crucial that we find ways to slow or even reverse climate change. That’s a battle I am committed to continuing to fight every day I’m in office.

The committee and our colleagues in the Legislature have a lot of work ahead of us. I will do my best as chair to ensure that not only the voices and interests of our district are considered but the concerns of every district in the state are carefully measured as we craft solutions. I look forward to working with my colleagues, local governments, advocates, activists, experts and you as we tackle these crucial issues.

If you have any thoughts, ideas or concerns regarding the committee and our work, please feel free to reach out to me for any reason through my district office by phone (818) 558-3043 or email Assemblymember.Friedman@assembly.ca.gov.

Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) represents La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, Glendale, Burbank and neighboring communities in the 43rd Assembly District.

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