New year laws include anti-paparazzi statute, Harvey Milk Day


The year 2010 kicks off with several new state laws that go into effect Jan. 1, including anti-paparazzi legislation that will affect media outlets and publishers.

In addition, what could be controversial new state laws, gay marriage status recognition and the establishment of Harvey Milk Day will go into effect this year. (Voters banned same-sex marriage in California more than a year ago through a referendum.) Other state laws that go into effect in the new year include the public registration of child pornography convicts and a lead-free faucet requirement.

Perhaps the most pertinent to Malibu, however, is the new law that will allow civil lawsuits to be filed against any media outlet that publishes an illegally taken photo.

The law imposes fines from $5,000 to $50,000 on a publisher who causes or condones a paparazzo to engage in offensive behavior?such as persistent following, chasing or trespassing?while in pursuit of photos or video footage of celebrities. The law will heavily affect media outlets seeking first-time publication rights.

Historically, only a paparazzo who took a photo would be held accountable and the publication that published the photo would not be liable.

Supporters of the new law, which include many Malibu residents and some city officials, have long called paparazzi efforts to capture celebrity photos a threat to public safety and an invasion of privacy. But oppositionists, which include the California Newspapers Publishers Association and various celebrity gossip Web sites and TV shows, have expressed that the law does a poor job at balancing the issue with First Amendment rights.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, who earlier this year said many of her friends whose children attend Malibu public schools have been mistaken for celebrities and harassed by paparazzi via car chase, lauds the new law.

?I think it gives an added layer of protection and gives an opportunity for anyone whose privacy is invaded to not only pursue paparazzi but publishers as well,? Conley Ulich said Tuesday in a phone interview. ?You get to go where the deep pockets are, and this will hopefully give incentive to publishers to not buy illegally obtained photographs.?

The issue received further attention through a scuffle between paparazzi and local surfers in June 2008, when a pack of photographers staked out actor Matthew McConaughey as he surfed at Little Dume Beach. Malibu residents Skylar Peak and Philip ?John? Hildebrand have each charged with one count of misdemeanor battery for their alleged involvement in the beating of French paparazzo Rachid Aitmbareck during the altercation.

New Year battle?

A new battle may be brewing over part of another new law that establishes May 22 of each year as Harvey Milk Day, in honor of California?s first openly gay elected official whom many regard as a civil rights pioneer. (Milk was killed in 1978, after serving on the Board of Supervisors in the city and county of San Francisco.)

The law contains a controversial provision that encourages public schools to celebrate Harvey Milk Day by conducting commemorative exercises to educate students on Milk?s achievements and his contributions to California.

Some have denounced this new law. An online petition circulated by oppositionists states ?every May 22 will positively portray to children homosexual experimentation, homosexual marriages, sex-change operations, and anything else that is ?in the closet.?? The petition opposing the law also states that there are no limits on the commemorative exercises that can be conducted.

Accompanying the institution of Harvey Milk Day is a new law that validates same-sex marriages in California, as long as the marriages meet one of two qualifications: they must have been entered into legally during the period of time when gay marriage in California was legal, or they must have taken place before Nov. 5, 2008 in a state that legally performs same-sex marriage.

Additionally, California will recognize any gay marriage occurring after that date in a state that legally performs it. The brides or grooms will receive all the rights and responsibilities entailed in a marriage, but the union will not legally be called a ?marriage.?

Lastly, Jan. 1 marks the beginning of two other new laws. One law will, on the state?s Megan?s Law Web site, display the name, photograph, physical description, address and criminal history of anyone convicted of felony child pornography charges involving victims younger than the age of 16.

The other law illegalizes the sale of faucets (including fittings and replacement parts) in California that contain more than one-fourth percent of lead. Prior to Jan. 1, 2010, the legal limit has been 8 percent.

The law will affect homeowners, who will probably have to incur the expense of implementing a completely new faucet because of the inability to purchase replacement parts for their current faucets. The law will also affect local agencies and school districts, which will be reimbursed by the state for costs associated with faucet replacements.

Lead is a potential health concern because it can build up in the body and cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys.