New laws launched today statewide affect everyone from bakers to paparazzi

Karen de Sá|Mercury News

Beginning today, carrying a small amount of pot in California is no longer a crime. Unlabeled baked goods will be trans fat-free. And children with pre-existing medical conditions will have better access to insurance.

These are among 2011’s new state laws altering life in the Golden State.

Also among them is a law crafted after the 2009 discovery of kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard in an Antioch hovel, where she had been held captive for two decades. Out-of-state parolees such as Dugard’s alleged abductor will now be better screened under a bill authored by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

“You can never take away those years and all those horrible things that happened,” DeSaulnier said. “But this bill will make certain that these kinds of things never happen again.”

Beginning today, law enforcement will also tighten for fast-flying paparazzi, under a bill authored by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles. Following appeals by actresses Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, Bass’s bill resulted in heightened penalties for reckless drivers in pursuit of a photo. Free-speech advocates fought the bill unsuccessfully.

Meanwhile, California laws will loosen for pot-smokers. Legislation by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, reduces the penalty for marijuana possession of 28.5 grams or less to the equivalent of a traffic ticket. The offense is now deemed an infraction, carrying a $100 maximum fine.

“This is the first time the California Legislature has voluntarily reduced penalties for marijuana or any drug offense since 1975,” said Dale Gieringer, director of the pro-legalization group NORML.

With the new law, more than 60,000 people arrested each year for misdemeanors will be spared a criminal record and will no longer have to appear in court, saving the state millions of dollars.

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Californians will welcome 725 new laws on Jan. 1. Here’s a glance at some of the laws taking effect when you ring in the new year:

  • AB 119 prevents insurance companies from charging different rates for men and women for identical coverage.
  • SB 782 prevents landlords from evicting tenants who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse or stalking.
  • AB 1844—informally known as Chelsea’s Law and authored by local Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher—will increase penalties, parole provisions and oversight of sex offenders, including a “one-strike, life-without-parole penalty” for some. 
  • AB 1871 allows people to lease out their cars when they are not being used—alleviating the need to purchase additional insurance.
  • AB 537 will make food stamps an acceptable form of payment at farmers markets through an EBT process.
  • SB 1411 makes it a misdemeanor to maliciously impersonate someone via a social media outlet or through e-mails.
  • SB 1317 allows the state to slap parents with a $2,000 fine if their K-8 child misses more than 10 percent of the school year without a valid excuse. It also allows the state to punish parents with up to a year in prison for the misdemeanor.
  • AB 715 makes a change to the California Green Building Standards code. The change will require new California buildings to be energy efficient.
  • SB 1449 makes the possession of one ounce of marijuana an infraction with a penalty of a $100 fine.
  • AB 12 allows foster youth to acquire state services until the age of 21.
  • SB 1399 allows California to medically parole state prison inmates with physical incapacitating conditions and ultimately shifts some of the cost of care to the federal government.
  • AB 97 bans the use of trans-fats in food facilities.

More Legislation Here