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The Fight for a Fresh Start in California Picks Up Second Client—and Legislative Interest

Beyond our victory in Pennsylvania, IJ is also fighting for fresh starts in the Golden State. Last issue, we brought you the story of a preposterous California ban that restricts certification for emergency medical technicians (EMTs). The ban prevents people with felony records from becoming full-time firefighters—even though the state trains and deploys the same people to fight fires while they’re incarcerated. Amid a record wildfire season, we’re challenging this irrational ban. There are two updates to share.

First, we’ve partnered with a second plaintiff, a young man named Fernando Herrera. Fernando’s two felony convictions mean he can never become an EMT—even though his convictions stem from fights when he was 14 and 15 years old. Fernando accepted responsibility, and the state trained him to be a first responder in prison. He has demonstrated that he’s turned his life around, yet the ban forever treats him like a troubled teen.

Second, faced with the devastating fires and the indefensible ban, there has been an uptick in interest from California legislators and a new bill that would offer some inmate firefighters modest discretionary relief. While that is a step in the right direction, the ban itself remains in place and EMT authorities must still deny most applicants with felony records, even if they’ve been rehabilitated.

That’s unconstitutional. And, building on our win in Pennsylvania, we’re going to ensure California takes note. 

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