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Gov. Gavin Newsom

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SACRAMENTO — California’s governor has signed a law that creates a fund of up to $21 billion to pay victims of the state’s devastating wildfires.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the law on Friday; one day after the state legislature passed it. Half of the money will come from customers. Utility companies have the option of kicking in another $10.5 billion for a total of $21 billion.

But before utilities can use the money to pay claims, they will have to spend at least $5 billion combined on safety improvements.

Newsom pushed back against critics who said the bill was passed too quickly without enough time for lawmakers and advocates to review it. He said lawmakers will return in August to take up other wildfire prevention measures.

The bill was cosponsored by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who issued a statement.

“Governing is about making the best available choices for our state. And that’s what this bill represents,” Dodd said. “Nobody is happy with the wildfire risk we face due to climate change and utility malfeasance. But that can’t stop us from making progress for victims and ratepayers.

“I thank the governor for being a good partner and leader on this issue. We’ve been working closely from day one. I look forward to passing additional wildfire prevention measures in the months ahead.”

Dodd noted that Assembly Bill 1054 had strong bipartisan support in the Legislature and is backed by Up From the Ashes and The Utility Reform Network, the leading organizations representing the interests of wildfire victims and ratepayers, respectively.

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