New laws come with price tags

With the new year comes new laws that Sacramento’s finest spent the year debating, crafting and voting on.

The state’s legislators were busy banning shark fin soup, increasing gun restrictions, advancing gay rights, tackling PG&E’s safety problems and taxing Internet sales.

Locally, two city laws already on the books will impact businesses. The minimum wage will be more than $10 — the highest in the nation — and businesses must pay a higher rate under San Francisco’s universal health care plan.

Internet sales tax

Those online purchases are not going to be as cheap as they once were. Struggling to find cash to solve its budget woes, California enacted the online sales tax, which goes into effect Sept. 15 — if Congress does not come up with a nationwide online sales tax. That means for online shoppers in San Francisco, that same 8.5 percent sales tax applied at cash registers will now hit your purchases on the Web. had fought the bill and was planning on bringing the battle to the ballot box, but negotiated a compromise with Gov. Jerry Brown, which delayed implementation.

No shark fins, no foie gras

Exotic and controversial dishes are on their way out in 2012. A law kicks in that would give restaurants one year to use up their supply of shark fins. After that, the fins will be illegal to serve in 2013. The fins are popular in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The ban on them was backed by environmentalists who denounce the practice of obtaining the fins. Fishermen typically hack off the fins of live sharks and keep them, but leave the rest of the shark behind to die.

Foie gras, the fattened liver of a goose or a duck, remains on the menus of several of San Francisco’s elite restaurants, but come July, that will be illegal under a state law passed seven years ago.

Pipeline safety laws

The Sept. 9, 2010, blast in San Bruno, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, inspired a number of new state laws to prevent a repeat of the PG&E pipeline explosion. State Sen. Leland Yee’s SB 316 empowers the California Public Utilities Commission to require automatic shutoff valves or valves that can be accessed by remote control. And Sen. Ellen Corbett’s SB 44 requires the CPUC to set new rules for responding to pipeline accidents, which need to go into effect in July.

Businesses face changes in health care regulations

Consumers who notice a health care surcharge on their receipts in restaurants can now feel assured the money will go toward employee health costs. A new law requires businesses to report their total surcharges to The City beginning July 1, and they must not collect more than what is spent on employee health. Businesses also face increased spending mandates under The City’s Health Care Security Ordinance, which goes up each year. Health care spending for employers with 100 or more employees will go up from $2.06 per employee per hour worked to $2.20, and for businesses with 20 to 99 workers, the rate will rise from $1.37 to $1.46.

Businesses that meet the spending mandate by putting money into health reimbursements accounts for their employees cannot take back the funds, but now must let them roll over into the next year.


Rules and regulations 

Other new laws going into effect in 2012:

– Open-carry handgun law: Don’t think about carrying your handgun out in the open anymore. It is now against the law, and there are steep penalties — like $1,000 and six months in jail under AB 144.

– San Francisco minimum wage: On Jan. 1, San Francisco will become the first location in the nation to have a minimum wage of more than $10 after the hourly rate increases by 32 cents to $10.24. The state’s minimum wage is $8.

– Anti-bullying law: Known as Seth’s Law, AB 9 requires school districts statewide to have a detailed process for handling bullying complaints. The law, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, is named for Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old gay student who killed himself two years ago after facing anti-gay bullying at school.

– Online voter registration: Registering to vote will become much easier under state Sen. Leland Yee’s new law, which requires a statewide online voter registration system in place in time for the November election.

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