News you might have missed: California moves to increase number of firefighters

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Also: Good news for the 2020 census, and Maine is set to use ranked-choice voting in November.

This week, California lawmakers try to make it easier for former inmates to become firefighters, Michigan will provide free college tuition to essential workers such as grocery store clerks, and Pearl Jam's lead singer gives a vote-by-mail tutorial on Instagram.

Read on to see what else you might have missed this week in the news.

California bill would allow former inmates to be firefighters

As wildfires rage across the state, California lawmakers passed a bill allowing nonviolent offenders who are released from prison to become firefighters, Wildfire Today reported on Saturday.

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In 2019, more than 2,000 inmates were authorized by the state to help fight fires, but their incarceration records prevented them from becoming professional firefighters upon their release, CNN previously reported.

The bill passed by the Legislature would expunge the record of nonviolent offenders who were firefighters while incarcerated.

In addition, the law, if signed by the governor, would allow those former prisoners to apply to become emergency medical technicians.

Maine to be first state to use ranked-choice voting in a presidential election

The Maine Supreme Court cleared the way for voters to use ranked-choice voting in November's presidential election, the first state in the nation to do so, Forbes reported on Tuesday.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates on a ballot in preferential order. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the lowest vote total is dropped, and voters' second choices are counted; the process repeats until there is a winner.

Maine's Republican Party tried to stop the use of ranked-choice voting by means of a ballot petition but failed to collect the required number of signatures.

Maine used the voting system in the 2018 midterm election, but November will be the first time it will be used in a presidential contest.

Judge rules that 2020 census must keep going to be complete

A federal judge ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to scrap plans to end the census early, the Associated Press reported on Sunday. The temporary restraining order, from U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, prevents the bureau from ending the nationwide census at the end of September according to a revised plan instead of the previous end date of October. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 17.

A coalition of civil rights groups, cities, and counties sued the Census Bureau, arguing that stopping the once-a-decade nationwide population count early would disproportionately impact minority communities and result in an undercount of the population.

"The court rightfully recognized the Trump administration's attempted short-circuiting of our nation's census as an imminent threat to the completion of a fair and accurate process," Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said after the ruling.

New bill would remove anti-LGBTQ restrictions on blood donations

A pair of House Democrats introduced a bill to change regulations for blood donation they say discriminates against the LGBTQ community.

The Blood Donation Act of 2020, introduced by Reps. Val Demings of Florida and Mike Quigley of Illinois, would require the Food and Drug Administration to change guidance regarding the risk of HIV transmission, arguing that the existing method bars many LGBTQ people from donating blood unless they have been celibate for at least three months.

The new guidance would base restrictions on individual risk factors.

"Every day, across the United States, donated blood marks the difference between life and death," Demings said in a press release. "There is no substitute. Yet our country turns away thousands of healthy and willing blood donors based solely on their gender identity and sexual orientation."

Judge orders Texas to stop rejecting ballots

The way Texas currently deals with signatures on mail-in ballots is unconstitutional and must be changed immediately, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that tossing out a ballot based on a perceived mismatch between a voter's signature on a mail-in ballot and that voter's signature on file "plainly violates certain voters' constitutional rights."

Garcia ruled the secretary of state must inform election officials that voters are to be notified of any perceived signature mismatch and given a "meaningful opportunity" to correct the issue.

In addition to being a battleground state in the presidential race, Texas this year is the site of one of the nation's marquee Senate races, between incumbent John Cornyn, a Republican, and Democratic challenger MJ Hegar.

Grocery workers in Michigan now eligible for free college tuition

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced that more than half a million essential workers in the state are eligible for free tuition at community colleges, the Oakland Press reported on Thursday.

The $24 million initiative, known as the Futures for Frontlines Program, is available to essential employees who worked full- or part-time during 11 of the 13 weeks of the coronavirus pandemic between April 1 and June 30. Essential workers include first responders, agricultural employees, grocery store workers, and those in the health care industry.

"Whether it was stocking shelves, delivering supplies, picking up trash, manufacturing PPE or providing medical care, you were there for us," Whitmer said in a statement. "Now this is your chance to pursue the degree or training you've been dreaming about to help you and your own family succeed."

Eddie Vedder gives vote-by-mail tutorial on Instagram

Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the rock group Pearl Jam, called voting by mail a "piece of cake" in a recent Instagram tutorial.

In a series of photos and step-by-step instructions, Vedder used his own voting experience in Washington's August primary to encourage others to vote by mail in November. He reminded voters to read the instructions, properly fill out the ballot, sign at the appropriate place, and safely and securely return the ballot.

"Piece of cake," Vedder posted beneath a photo of him holding a ballot. "In regards to something so huge as taking part in our democracy and putting your voices to great use, nothing could be easier. And at this intense time of a global pandemic, even more importantly, nothing could be SAFER."