Landmark Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights Signed by Governor Schwarzenegger
Author: California Professional Firefighters
Published on Oct 29, 2007, 09:07

It's taken two decades and untold buckets of blood, sweat and tears. But come January 1, the Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights will be the law in California.

With broad support from both political parties and a signature from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly Bill 220 by Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) extends to firefighters the same fundamental on-the-job employee protections that now exist for police officers.

"In the public's mind, public safety professionals are on the same team," said California Professional Firefighters President Lou Paulson. "We face the same split-second decisions the same high-stress situations the same danger to life and limb. In signing this measure, Governor Schwarzenegger is recognizing that all first responders should be on an equal footing when it comes to protecting our due-process rights."

AB 220 is the culmination of a 20-year crusade by California Professional Firefighters to secure a consistent procedural standard for all first responders police, firefighters and public agency EMS personnel when they are the targets of investigation or interrogation by their superiors.

The landmark measure is designed to apply common-sense principles of fairness and professionalism to the process of investigating and disciplining first responders. As with the original Peace Officers Bill of Rights approved in the 1980s, AB 220 puts in place basic procedural safeguards that recognize the unique role of first responders:

* No more unreasonable interrogation. The law requires that interrogation be conducted at reasonable hours, with compensation and without verbal or physical threats or extortion;

* Protection of basic rights. Individuals must be advised of their rights and secures the right of representation in any and all interrogations; prohibits unwarranted search of personal property or forced submission to polygraph testing;

* Maintaining professionalism. Authorizes recording any interrogation by employer or employee, and gives each access to the other's recordings and transcripts; statements made under duress can't be used in judicial proceedings;

* Preserving appeal rights. Appeals process must conform to state Administrative Procedures Act.

During the two-decade struggle, CPF has introduced a half-dozen different measures to enact these basic protections. Almost all fell victim to legislative partisanship or simple misinformation from employers.

This year, however, the measure enjoyed overwhelming support from both political parties, including near-unanimous support in the California Assembly. In addition to Schwarzenegger, the measure's champions included Assemblywoman Bass, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Senate President Don Perata and Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines.

Also standing tall in this battle was GOP Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, who helped win converts from his own party during the legislative battle.

"California's firefighters are, and should be, held to the highest standards of public service," said Paulson. "We welcome these high standards, but they must be applied fairly. This measure establishes that standard of basic fairness, and we are grateful to the governor and the Legislature for their support."

© Copyright 2007