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Legislature to renew debate over California's rural fire fee

SACRAMENTO — An annual fire-prevention fee that is unpopular with some rural property owners is headed back before the state Legislature, as Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to expand its use and opponents try to kill it.

The fee was imposed for the first time last year and helps fund the state's firefighting agency. It has run into two new hurdles in recent weeks that are feeding criticism and uncertainty about its future.

First came a disclosure that the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection funneled money from wildfire damage settlements into a special account instead of the state treasury.

That revelation was followed by an opinion from the Legislature's legal counsel that the department is improperly using some of the new fire fee revenue to collect damages from those who maliciously or accidentally start fires, instead of its intended purpose.

The news prompted a state audit, led Republican lawmakers to call for a federal investigation and bolstered the hopes of an anti-tax organization that is suing over the way the fee was enacted.


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