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New laws from Bay Area state senators take effect Jan. 1

Measures range from slowing down for emergency vehicles to 'deceptive' product renewals

Californians will ring in both a new year and an assortment of new laws on Jan. 1, including several authored by Bay Area lawmakers.

Beginning in 2010, drivers must be extra-vigilant when approaching emergency vehicles, tow trucks or other service vehicles with flashing lights, as several new laws expand the state's existing "slow down and move over" laws.

Senate Bill 159, authored by Palo Alto Democrat Joe Simitian, makes permanent the law requiring freeway motorists to slow down when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle or tow truck that is flashing its emergency lights. If a driver is in the lane adjacent to the service vehicle, they must move to another lane if it's safe to do so.

Another senate bill from Inglewood Democrat Rod Wright expands these "slow down and move over" guidelines to include Caltrans vehicles that are flashing their amber lights.

Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco authored several bills that take effect Jan. 1, including Senate Bill 340. This bill attempts to reign in the business sneaky practice of selling customers a product or service, or giving something away for free, then automatically renewing their purchase or sending them additional shipments later, along with a bill.

Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said the senator had received complaints from constituents, and many office staff members reported similar experiences with deceptive renewals.

Customers provide their personal information, he said, and "lo and behold you get a subscription to this magazine."

The law requires businesses to clearly explain all automatic renewal terms and obtain the customer's consent.

"It can't just be in the fine print," he said.

Another Yee-authored bill becoming law in January, Senate Bill 786, protects the rights of citizens who sue to enforce open government laws. The law protects public entities from recovering legal fees from individuals who sue in these cases, unless the lawsuit is deemed frivolous.

People who challenged cities or counties on open government laws were getting stuck with municipalities' attorney fees when they lost, Keigwin said. "Folks would say, 'let's not try to enforce these laws in case we lose," he said. "We hope our open government laws will be enforced better."

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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