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Cal Fire staffing deficit | Abortion law sought | Sports gambling push


The latest North State and California news on our airwaves for Friday, May 6.

Some Cal Fire units concerned about staffing

Cal Fire’s Lassen, Modoc and Plumas Unit (LMU) is marshaling its forces for another potentially severe fire season. LMU Unit Chief Scott Packard said the unit is phasing in staff as much as four to six weeks earlier than usual due to ongoing severe to extreme drought conditions.

But in addition to a dry year, Packard said the unit is down in personnel, due in part to recent legislative changes that have allowed early release for some nonviolent offenders. Cal Fire has significantly relied on inmate fire crews in the past. Packard said the change is affecting Cal Fire’s Northern Region Units whose area includes the North State.

”We had approximately 1,500 firefighters, and we’re down to about 250ish inmate firefighters,” he said. “So that has been a significant impact to our firefighting force is losing all those inmate firefighter hand crews.”

The practice of using inmate fire crews is controversial. Some advocates argue it exploits those who are paid very low wages for a dangerous job.

Packard said this season the state is working with the California National Guard to help offset crew shortages, but there’s still a staffing deficit.

— Ken Devol, NSPR

Padilla says passing federal abortion protections is essential

California U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla said there's new urgency to pass a federal abortion rights law now that it looks like Roe v. Wade may be overturned.

The "Women's Health Protection Act" would essentially codify Roe into federal law. It was approved by the House eight months ago, but it hasn't cleared the Senate. Some observers say it's unlikely to.

"I'm not naive to think that it's going to be easy, and so the conversations have been ongoing and intense," Padilla said.

Padilla said he's hopeful that some senators on the fence will support the bill now that a leaked draft opinion suggests conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices are prepared to roll back the 1973 opinion giving women legal access to abortions.

Also in today’s Headlines, Padilla will appear on California’s June primary ballot twice. Read the full story

— CapRadio Staff 

Voters could decide on ways to legalize sports gambling

California voters could decide between two different approaches to legalizing sports gambling this November after supporters of legalizing online wagers say they've collected enough signatures to make it on the ballot.

The campaign backed by sports gambling companies like FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM announced Tuesday that it’s turned in 1.6 million signatures. If roughly 1 million are deemed valid by the Secretary of State, the measure will be on the ballot. Campaign spokesman Nathan Click said the proposal would earmark 85% of gambling tax revenue to combat homelessness.

We're the only measure that would create hundreds of millions of dollars each year and funding for homelessness and mental health support,” Click said.

But Native American tribal governments say that proposal impedes their gaming rights. A ballot measure sponsored by tribal governments to legalize in-person sports gambling will also be on the ballot this fall.

— Guy Marzorati (KQED), The California Report

Company behind TurboTax agrees to pay $140M to customers who say they were misled

Intuit, the Mountain View-based company behind TurboTax, has agreed to pay more than $140 million to customers who were tricked into paying for services that should have been free.

A coalition of 51 attorneys general, including California's, allege Intuit advertised its TurboTax products as free to low-income Americans and active-duty service members. But once consumers clicked, Intuit steered them away from the IRS Free File program and toward Intuit’s commercial products — often only after people spent hours filling out their information.

In a blog post, Intuit admitted to no wrongdoing and stated it already adheres to most of the changes it's committed to make as part of the deal.

Californians will receive $11 million from the settlement.

— Rachel Myro (KQED), The California Report 

Stories from NPR partner stations are edited by NSPR Staff for digital presentation and credited as requested.

In other news

  • Tree limbs hit PG&E power lines west of Redding, spark small fire: “For about the past 10 years, Heather Allen has been dealing with trees growing close to power lines near her house west of Redding, but the problem literally exploded Wednesday when a branch fell onto the electrical lines.”  — Redding Record Searchlight
  • Candidates forum focuses on law enforcement issues: “Law enforcement and local policing issues were under the spotlight Thursday night during an open forum hosted by Concerned Citizens for Justice at the Chico Women’s Club.” — Chico Enterprise-Record
  • Financial drought relief available to family farms, small businesses in Colusa County: “Financial drought relief is now available to farmers and ranchers conducting family-sized farming operations, as well as small, non-farming businesses, agricultural cooperatives and most private nonprofit organizations conducting business with growers as a result of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) disaster designation due to drought severity, which was approved in April.” — The Appeal-Democrat
  • Susanville City Council approves commercial cannabis ordinance: “Despite strong opposition and little support from a roomful of city residents to commercial cannabis activities and dispensaries within the city limits and numerous pleas from members of the public to put the issue on the ballot to let the city’s residents make the call, the Susanville City Council approved a proposed city ordinance that allows those activities at its Wednesday, May 4 meeting.” — Lassen County Times
  • Yreka swimming pool sales tax heads to November ballot: “The Yreka City Council reaffirmed a measure to move forward with placing a sales tax referendum on the November ballot to generate new funding to be used for the maintenance and operation of a new aquatic park, and fire department funding.” — The Siskiyou Daily News

In case you missed it

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Sarah is an award-winning reporter, producer and editor. She’s worked at North State Public Radio for six years and was previously the station’s News Director before leaving to study at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
A graduate of California State University, Chico, Andre Byik is an award-winning journalist who has reported in Northern California since 2012. He joined North State Public Radio in 2020, following roles at the Chico Enterprise-Record and Chico News & Review.
Angel Huracha has been a part of the journalism field since 2006 and has covered a range of topics. He is a graduate of Chico State with a Bachelor's degree in news-editorial and public relations with a minor in English.
Adia White is a broadcast journalist and producer with nearly 10 years of experience. Her work has appeared on WNYC, This American Life, Capital Public Radio and other local and national programs. She started at North State Public Radio as a freelance reporter in 2017 before leaving for a stint at Northern California Public Media in Santa Rosa.