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

In 2010, hundreds of new rules will be enforced. Among them, a ban on shortening cows' tails; a $20,000 fine for human trafficking; and tougher penalties for mortgage fraud and watching dogfights.

January 01, 2010|By Patrick McGreevy

Reporting from Sacramento — 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.

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