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Governor Signs Bill Establishing Fines for Stealing Free Newspapers

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday September 12, 2006

Just because you don’t plunk down 50 cents for your Daily Planet or your Daily Cal, that doesn’t mean free newspapers are without value. That’s the basis of AB 2612, authored by George Plescia (R-San Diego) and signed by the governor. 

If you pick up more than 25 copies of a free newspaper, you’ll face a $250 fine; and you could get a $500 fine on the second offense and 10 days in jail. 

The bill, sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, primarily targets thieves who pick up the newspapers to sell for recycling, according to Morgan Crinklaw, spokesperson for Plescia.  

But it also has First Amendment implications, Crinklaw said. 

In Berkeley, four years ago, Mayor Tom Bates, then a candidate for mayor, trashed some 1,000 copies of the Nov. 4 Daily Cal because he was unhappy with the paper’s editorial position supporting rival then-mayor Shirley Dean. 

The City of Berkeley passed a similar local ordinance after the incident. 

“I’m very happy to see it pass,” Bates told the Daily Planet on Monday. “It was an irrational action on my part—the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” 

San Francisco also has a comparable ordinance, passed in 1992 after Police Chief Richard Hongisto was accused of ordering the theft of 2,000 San Francisco Bay Times newspapers. Hongisto was fired after the incident. 

The bill was necessary because “law enforcement did not have the tools to prosecute offenders,” Crinklaw said.