SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Calif. Senate Bill 362 was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown today. The new law, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) empowers the Governor to set up an alternative means for emergency workers to obtain a ballot and cast their vote when outside the state responding to emergencies.

Senator Alex Padilla“This bill is about protecting the voting rights of California emergency personnel who are participating in disaster relief efforts outside of California. Californians assisting those in need outside of the state, or outside the U.S., should not have to forego their right to vote,” said Senator Alex Padilla.

“I thank Governor Brown for signing SB 362. California’s firefighters, police officers, utility workers and volunteers should not have to choose between helping others and exercising their right to vote. They should be able to do both. This new law will make that possible,” said Senator Padilla.

California’s public safety and emergency personnel, utility workers and volunteers are regularly deployed to assist during emergencies and natural disasters outside of California. These deployments can and do impact their ability to participate in an election. Last year, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States a week before Election Day. Hundreds of emergency and public safety personnel, volunteers and workers from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, California Red Cross, the California National Guard, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric and the California Emergency Management Urban Search and Rescue Team, went to New York and New Jersey to help in the relief and recovery efforts. Workers who were not absentee voters were unable to vote and participate in the election. Prior to Senator Padilla’s legislation there were no provisions in state law allowing a person to vote if they were responding to a disaster outside of California.

Don Boland, Executive Director of the California Utilities Emergency Association (CUEA), which oversees California’s national utility relief efforts, supports the change. “Many of our member agencies and their personnel were dispatched to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy. While many of them had intended to vote at their local polling place, due to the timing and the urgency of the relief efforts, they were unable to vote,” said Mr. Boland.

Senator Alex Padilla, 40, graduated from MIT with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He currently serves on the Board of MIT and is President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 1,100,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District in Los Angeles.