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Bill advances in drive to allow help for families of 5 killed firefighters

February 02, 2007|From a Times Staff Writer

The state Assembly approved a measure Thursday clarifying tax law to permit the families of the five firefighters who died in October's 40,000-acre wildfire near Palm Springs to receive the more than $1 million in donations collected for them.

When Central County United Way and the Wildland Firefighter Foundation began collecting donations for the families after the Esperanza fire, they were unaware that IRS regulations prohibit tax-exempt charitable organizations from collecting money for such a small and specific group.

Federal lawmakers in December approved an exception to the IRS rules for the five families. The state legislation, which has already been approved by the state Senate, will make a similar exception in California law, ensuring that the two organizations will not jeopardize their tax-exempt status if they distribute the money to the families by June.

A Beaumont man is charged in the case with murder by arson.

The bill, approved unanimously by the Assembly on Thursday, goes back to the Senate for approval of some technical changes. The sponsors, Sen. Jim Battin (R-La Quinta) and Assemblyman John Benoit (R-Palm Desert), expect the final version of SB 41 to be sent to the governor's desk as early as Monday.

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