Legislation making it a misdemeanor to steal more than 25 copies of a free newspaper in California has been unanimously approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee and is now headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Legislative Bulletin. However, Sen. Carol Migden, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, were concerned that the bill could result in the prosecution of homeless people who use newspapers for warmth outdoors. They succeeded in getting the committee amend the bill to clarify that the law only applies to the “current issue” of a newspaper.
In 2002, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (pictured) stole copies of the Nov. 4 edition of the UC Berkeley student newspaper the Daily Californian which carried an endorsement of his opponent, Shirley Dean, one day before the election. Four students reported seeing Bates take the papers from Sproul Plaza, birthplace of the free speech movement. The theft didn’t become public until after the election, which Bates won. Bates later apologized but refused to resign. At first it wasn’t clear whether Bates would be prosecuted because no statutes existed dealing specifically with the theft of free products, but the Alameda County District Attorney’s office countered that the papers had value since they contained paid advertising. In a plea bargain, Bates pleaded guilty to an infraction (a charge lower than a misdemeanor) and paid a $250 fine.