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California governor approves newspaper theft law
Schwarzenegger signs bill creating fines, jail time for free newspaper thieves
September 11, 2006

CALIFORNIA -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this weekend signed a bill into law making it illegal to take multiple copies of a free newspaper off the racks in California.

The bill, AB 2612, by Assemblymember George Plescia, R-San Diego, makes taking more than 25 copies of a free newspaper a crime when they are removed “to sell or barter the papers, to recycle the papers for cash or other payment, to harm a competitor or to prevent others from reading the paper.”

The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2007, carries a maximum $250 fine for the first offense ranging to $500 and jail time for repeat offenders.

“It was difficult for someone to prosecute because there was no fair-market value associated with a [free] newspaper,” said Plescia’s spokesperson Morgan Crinklaw. “For people to steal newspapers and try to sell them, recycle them or hamper with someone’s First Amendment rights because they don’t agree with their viewpoint, this is an important issue as well.”

“We must work to ensure that no one is able to deprive others of their First Amendment rights,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

California becomes the third state to enact a law explicitly criminalizing the taking of free newspapers. Colorado enacted a similar law in 2004 and Maryland in 1994. Newspaper thieves have also been prosecuted in other states under existing statutes.

Schwarzenegger also signed AB 2581 earlier this summer, a bill crafted by Assemblymember Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to expand the protection of college journalists in the state following the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Hosty v. Carter.

By Scott Sternberg, SPLC staff writer

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© 2006 Student Press Law Center

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