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California ushers in new laws limiting trans fats, the paparazzi and more

The new year rang in with hundreds of new state laws governing how Californians live and do business.

Starting today, restaurants face strict limits on cooking with artery-clogging trans fats; people wanting plastic surgery in California must get a physical first; dairy farmers are barred from cutting cows’ tails; and the law gets tougher on mortgage fraud.

Penalties for betting in office pools are reduced, but there are new fines for watching a dogfight, engaging in human trafficking and providing minors with nitrous oxide.

And paparazzi will pay more if they break the law to get celebrity photos -- a bill championed by actress Jennifer Aniston, who is sometimes pursued by groups of photographers who weave in and out of traffic and run red lights.

The Legislature also gave Californians two new official days of recognition: March 30, to show appreciation for Vietnam veterans, and May 22, to remember slain gay-rights leader Harvey Milk.

The law barring restaurants from using oils and shortening with more than half a gram of trans fat per serving was pushed by medical groups, including the California Academy of Family Physicians. “Consumption of trans fats greatly increases your risk of heart attack and stroke,” said Laguna Beach physician Thomas C. Bent, president of the academy. “If you are going to eat fast food, it’s going to be a little healthier now.”

Other new laws pave the way for new fees and charges to be levied on hospitals, blueberry growers, plant-gathering scientists, drunk drivers, ships using San Francisco Bay, makers of organic fertilizer, citrus nurseries and real estate appraisal firms.

Much of lawmakers’ time in 2009 was spent dealing with about $60 billion in budget shortfalls caused in part by the economic recession and the state’s slumping jobs and housing markets. Last year was one of the toughest for California “since the Great Depression,” said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). “Clearly that impacted what the Legislature and the governor were able to accomplish.”

But Bass noted that lawmakers achieved, after decades of stalemate, a package of measures aimed at improving the quality, quantity and reliability of the state’s water supply.

Those include a conservation mandate that will not take effect until next month. It requires city water retailers to develop plans by next year that would reduce urban water consumption by 10% by 2015 and by 20% a decade later.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed 696 bills into law last year, 73% of the legislation that reached his desk. Some have already taken effect; others kick in later. For instance, starting in 2011, sellers of ammunition for handguns will be required to keep a log of sales information, including a buyer’s thumbprint, signature and driver’s license data. Another law will require companies selling textbooks in California colleges or universities to make them available electronically by 2020.

Areas affected by new laws include:

Air safety: Allows airports to kill birds that pose a danger to aircraft without violating state fish and game laws.

Blueberries: Creates a California Blueberry Commission, to be funded by an industry fee of up to $0.025 per pound of berries sold.

Burial fees: Allows state-owned cemeteries to waive the fees for interment of the spouses and children of honorably discharged veterans if they determine the families cannot pay the costs.

Charter schools: Allows such schools access to about $900 million in voter-approved bond money for construction. A separate law gives districts more incentive to approve them by cutting red tape.

College violence: Allows universities to obtain restraining orders on behalf of students against a person who has threatened them with violence.

Cow tails: Bans the dairy-industry practice of shortening cows’ tails unless necessary to protect the health of the animals. Some argue that tail-docking is inhumane.

Delta restoration: Creates a new Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy to oversee restoration of the failing delta ecosystem. Sets goals of “providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the delta ecosystem.” Part of the larger water package.

Dog fights: Raises the maximum penalties against those convicted of being spectators at dogfights, subjecting them to as much as a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Drunk driving: Creates a test program in four counties, including Los Angeles County, in which judges can require that first-time drunk-driving offenders install a breath-testing device on every vehicle they own and pass a test on it before the vehicle will start.

Education: Allows school and student performance data to be used to judge the quality of instruction. The change will allow California to compete for federal Race to the Top education grants.

Fat in food: Requires restaurants to use oils, margarine and shortening with less than half a gram of trans fat per serving of regular foods. The standard will apply to deep-fried bakery goods next year. Trans fat has been linked to heart disease.

Football stadium: Exempts a professional football stadium proposed in the City of Industry from state environmental laws, so it can proceed despite a lawsuit filed by opponents.

Fire prevention: Requires government officials to improve guidelines for protecting property from wildfires, including larger brush-clearance zones and better access roads in regions vulnerable to such fires.

Fire safety: In response to evacuation problems during a 2008 wildfire that destroyed dozens of mobile homes in the San Fernando Valley, a new law requires owners of mobile home parks to adopt and post notice of an emergency preparedness plan.

Gangs: Allows tougher penalties, including a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail, for gang members who return to school campuses within 72 hours of being asked to leave.

Gasoline: Increases the underground storage fee paid by gas retailers to help fund grants and loans to those who need to meet tank cleanup rules and install devices that capture more vapor from gas nozzles.

Gay marriage: Recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states before California voters banned gay marriage in 2008 by approving Proposition 8.

Hanging nooses: Makes it a misdemeanor to hang a noose, “knowing it to be a symbol representing a threat to life,” in order to terrorize a person who lives, works or attends school at the property where the noose is hung. The law is in response to a series of incidents at California colleges.

Harvey Milk: Proclaims gay-rights activist Harvey Milk’s May 22 birthday as a day of recognition and encourages schools to consider commemorating his life.

High-speed rail: Requires the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority to prepare, publish and adopt a business plan by Jan. 1, 2012, and every two years thereafter, so the public knows how its money is being spent.

Hospital fee: Imposes a new fee on hospitals to make them eligible for $2 billion in federal funds. The funds are subsidies for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.

Human trafficking: Quadruples the fine, to $20,000, for those convicted of human-trafficking crimes and allows law enforcement officers to seize traffickers’ assets.

Inhalants: Makes it a misdemeanor for a person to sell or furnish products containing nitrous oxide to a minor.

Jail guards: Allows jail guards and custodial assistants to have the blood of people taken into custody tested for specified communicable diseases when exposed to the suspect’s bodily fluids.

Liquor ads: Waives rules prohibiting indoor alcohol advertisements in one club that sells the featured products: Club Nokia, a downtown Los Angeles venue owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Mammogram safety: Requires facilities that operate mammogram machines to post any notices of “serious violations” they may receive in an area visible to patients. Serious violations are those posing a significant threat to public health.

Mortgage crimes: Creates a new offense, “mortgage fraud,” punishable by up to a year in prison. Such crimes are defined as those in which someone makes “any misstatement, misrepresentation or omission during the mortgage lending process with the intention that it be relied on by a mortgage lender, borrower, or any other party to the mortgage lending process.”

Office bets: Changes the penalty for participation in a non-commercial or office “sports betting pool” from a misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $1,000, to an infraction, punishable by a fine not to exceed $250.

Paparazzi penalties: Allows celebrities and others to sue for up to $50,000 when someone takes and sells their pictures without permission while they are engaging in “personal or familial activity,” such as taking their children to school.

Plastic surgery: Enacts the Donda West law, named after the deceased mother of rapper Kanye West, that prohibits elective cosmetic surgery unless the patient is first cleared by a physical examination.

Political spouses: Prohibits political candidates from paying their spouses or domestic partners to work on their campaigns to enrich their own households.

Prostitution arrests: Allows local government agencies to impound vehicles used in the commission of prostitution-related crimes.

Rental cars: Allows car-rental companies to recover from customers an increase made last year in the vehicle license fee from 0.65% to 1.15%.

School books: Expands the use of digital textbooks in public schools by allowing districts to use textbook money to buy electronic viewing devices.

School buses: Extends to school buses the $300 penalty already applicable to commercial vehicles that idle too long. Existing clean-air regulations prohibit school buses from idling for more than five minutes within 100 feet of a school, but the fine has been $100.

School safety: Makes it a misdemeanor to possess a razor blade or box cutter on school grounds.

Talent agents: Prohibits talent representatives from charging advance fees.

Teen voting: Permits a California resident who is 17 to pre-register to vote.

Snake food: Requires pet stores to use specific, “humane” methods for killing rodents before they are used as food for another animal.

Toll roads: Allows toll road operators to use license-plate-reading technology to bill motorists who use their roads.

Used car sales: Bars car dealers from selling a used vehicle until action is taken to cover any previous loan or lease obligations held by a previous owner. Also boosts by $25 fees for dealers’ state business licenses.

Vietnam veterans: Establishes an annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on March 30.

Water management: To better manage California’s water supplies, creates a statewide monitoring program to track groundwater levels.

Water softeners: Allows local governments to ban residential water softeners if regulators find that salts discharged into municipal sewer lines pose a pollution problem.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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