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Gov. signs bill outlawing theft of free papers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Sunday (Sept. 10) that will make it a crime to steal free newspapers. Sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Assembly Bill 2612 will prohibit the taking of more than 25 copies of a free paper if done with the intent to recycle for cash, sell or barter the papers, deprive others of the ability to read the paper, or harm a business competitor.

Some wags have labeled AB2612 the “Tom Bates Act” because Bates, when he was running for mayor of Berkeley in 2002, was caught stealing about 1,000 copies of the Daily Cal, which contained an endorsment of his competitor, Shirley Dean. (Bates was elected, his crime was not reported until after the election.) Bates pleaded guilty to a charge of petty theft, was fined $100 and was required, as part of a plea bargain, to push for legislation banning the theft of free newspapers. Berkeley has since passed an ordinance banning the theft of free newspapers.

The Chronicle reports that San Francisco is the only other California city with an ordinance against stealing free papers. The theft in 1992 of 2,000 copies of the San Francisco Bay Times, a free gay newspaper, led to the firing of then-Police Chief Richard Hongisto, who was accused of orchestrating it.

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Daily had several hundred of its papers stolen in the city’s Castro District. In Friday’s edition, Publisher Dave Price ran a front page “scum alert” warning that the paper was going to have employees watching newspaper racks for thefts.

AB2612 was introduced by George Plescia of San Diego, the Assembly’s Republican leader, in response to the theft of a free newspaper in his county. Copies of that paper were apparently taken to Mexico and sold to recyclers.

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