Protecting Vulnerable Californians During PSPS Events & Rolling Blackouts Is Goal of New Stern Bills Signed Into Law

September 30, 2020

SACRAMENTO – Medically vulnerable Californians will be eligible for discounted electricity rates and early notification of public safety power shutoff (PSPS) and rolling blackout events now that SB 596 by Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) has been signed into law.

“For a person on a ventilator system or someone who relies on medication that has to be refrigerated, there is no good time for a PSPS event, but catching our most vulnerable residents off guard and leaving them with no support is unacceptable,” said Stern, a member of the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee. “It is government’s most basic responsibility to protect its elderly and medically fragile residents.  This bill will help ensure appropriate resources and early warnings of PSPS events will get out to the people who need it the most.”

The measure requires county social services agencies to let people applying for certain benefits know they may also be eligible for a local utility’s medical baseline program.  Under the program, people are entitled to receive a certain amount of power at a lower cost and they’ll also be told early on about planned power outages and PSPS events.  California’s PSPS rules were created by the state’s Public Utilities Commission with the goal of reducing the risk that power lines could start a wildfire should they go down in a windstorm, but the lack of power hurts California’s elderly and medically vulnerable residents the most.

A second bill, AB 2213 (Limón-Stern), makes it easier for fire officials to reach out to elderly Californians and those with special needs who may need help during a PSPS or other emergency event.  Signed into law earlier this month, AB 2213 lets county social services agencies share the phone numbers and email addresses of elderly and disabled residents with fire and other emergency service agencies so they can more easily contact and, if necessary, help evacuate those people during a PSPS, fire, or other emergency.  Until now, only the home addresses of these residents could be shared with emergency workers.

“Fires move faster than ever and when emergency crews need to contact elderly and medically vulnerable people, there isn’t time to send them a letter to ask them to evacuate,” continued Stern.  “These bills won’t put out fires but they will save lives.”

SB 596 (Stern) was supported by the Disability Rights California, the Center for Advanced Public Awareness, California Association of Public Authorities for In Home Supportive Services, Southern California Edison, Rural County Representatives of California, and UDW/AFSCME Local 3930. The bill passed the Assembly and Senate, respectively, on bi-partisan 73-0 and 38-0 votes in August.

AB 2213 (Limón-Stern) was supported by the California Assisted Living Association, California Commission on Aging, California Emergency Services Association, City of Thousand Oaks, Disability Rights California, the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, and the Arc/United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration.  The bill passed the Assembly and Senate, respectively, on bi-partisan 75-0 and 39-0 votes. 

The two new laws will take effect on January 1, 2021.