A new law criminalizes the taking of more than 25 copies of a free newspaper as a form of censorship or with plans to recycle for cash.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed the bill that makes stealing papers an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $250 for the first offense. A second violation is classified as a misdemeanor punishable by up to 10 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
The law was enacted in response to alleged entrepreneurs transporting bundles of free papers from San Diego County to Mexico for recycling. Both Berkeley and San Francisco previously established local ordinances in response to thefts of free newspapers by people who objected to the content.
The law is prompting debate in San Luis Obispo County, where self-appointed content police have attempted to shelter the public from issues of HopeDance, New Times, and the Rogue Voice, dating back to the organized dumping of the Jan. 30, 1992, issue of New Times, featuring "Attack of the Killer Cows," which accused the cattle industry of destroying forests and polluting streams. More recently, HopeDance editor and publisher Bob Banner faced the removal of his July/August sexuality issue by local librarians due to alleged inappropriate content.
"Too bad this law wasn't in effect earlier, or I could get some money for [San Luis Obispo County library director] Brian Reynolds' actions," Banner said. "I think alternative papers are struggling as it is. We need laws to keep our papers alive and well. The libraries were tossing my publication. No one bothered to call me, they just threw them away."
"I felt [the HopeDance sexuality issue] was inappropriate for the public space at the library," Reynolds responded. "The law is an important change, and I have e-mailed our attorney for advice. Our lobbies need to look neat and tidy, and if we have no control of freebees, then I don't know."