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California is making restaurants tell the truth about prices. Will it give you sticker shock?

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California is making restaurants tell the truth about prices. Will it give you sticker shock?

California restaurants finally have their answer: They, too, must comply with a new state law that bans unadvertised fees, surcharges and other costs tacked onto the end of the bill.

Starting July 1, restaurants will join thousands of other California businesses, including event ticket sellers, short-term rental apps, hotels and food delivery services, that are required to include all mandatory fees and charges in the prices they display or advertise.

The state attorney general’s office gave conflicting statements in the weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure into law last year, telling some news outlets that restaurants could continue to keep their current prices while listing any surcharges on their menus, and others that the surcharges had to be included in the prices themselves.

On Wednesday Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office released a set of guidelines to clarify that issue and answer other questions about how businesses must comply with the new law. Bonta sponsored the measure, Senate Bill 478, along with its co-authors, state Sens. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley).

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For restaurants, that means it will no longer be enough to just list service charges and surcharges on a bill or a menu’s fine print. Instead, these charges must be included in the prices printed on the menu.

For example, a $20 mole enchilada at a restaurant that levies a 5% fee to cover employee health costs will have to be listed on the menu as a $21 mole enchilada. And a flier advertising a $10 lunch buffet at a restaurant that adds a mandatory 10% “service charge” will have to refer to the offer as an $11 lunch buffet.

In a statement, the Golden Gate Restaurant Assn. said Bonta’s guidelines “will create significant challenges for the restaurant industry moving forward.”

The association, which advocates for the restaurant industry, argues that by prohibiting the longtime practice of using service charges to increase staff pay or cover the cost of local ordinances — such as San Francisco’s requirement that businesses spend at least a minimum amount on healthcare services — the law will compound the problems faced by an already struggling industry.

“Diners will not pay less, instead they will see significant menu price increases, which we believe will further cause them to pull back on dining out,” the statement said. “Not only will restaurants struggle, but workers will lose hours and jobs.”

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With few exceptions, businesses of all sorts across California will not be able to advertise, display or offer a price for their goods or services that does not include all of the “mandatory fees or charges” other than government-imposed taxes or fees or reasonable shipping costs, according to the measure’s authors.

“Put simply, the price a Californian sees should be the price they pay,” Bonta’s office said in a news release.

The new law doesn’t dictate what companies charge for their goods or services. Businesses will still be able to set prices, but the posted price will need to match the full amount a customer will see on their final bill.

Though businesses can exclude taxes and shipping charges, handling fees must be included. In other words, actual postage or delivery charges can be excluded, while the cost of pulling an item off a shelf and taking it to a shipping company has to be included in its advertised price.

Separate fees for optional services or features do not need to be advertised. This could extend to a bevy of industries and services — for example, the amount an airline charges for a seat upgrade or checked bags.

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What about late fees or extra charges for customers who smoke in a hotel room? Because those charges can be avoided, they do not have to be advertised, according to the guidelines from Bonta’s office.

Businesses will not be allowed to skirt the law by advertising one price and then letting customers know that additional fees might be added later. A business can, however, list the full price of its product and provide customers a breakdown of all the fees that are included.

Bonta also offered some guidance for businesses that say they do not know up front what the final cost will be once their work is done. Such businesses “should wait to display a price until they know how much they will charge,” the guidelines say.

This could affect how live music fans interact with ticket sellers for concerts and other live events. The nonprofit watchdog Consumer Reports noted that hidden fees can increase the price of live-event tickets by 30% to 40%.

Live Nation Entertainment, parent company of ticketing giant Ticketmaster, said in a statement that it supported SB 478 and has already offered all-in pricing at some venues and festivals across the country. “Unfortunately, we routinely see resellers defy state laws requiring all-in pricing which confuses and harms fans, so we strongly encourage regulatory scrutiny to ensure compliance across the industry,” the company said.

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The Virginia-based Travel Technology Assn., a global network of online travel agents, said it views transparency as a top priority but opposed SB 478 and would rather see a uniform national standard for regulations on lodging prices.

“We take this position to create uniformity and certainty for lodging operators, travel technology companies, and most of all, travelers, who will have a better understanding of what is included in advertised prices for trips both in and out of their home state,” President and Chief Executive Laura Chadwick said in a statement.

The online travel company Expedia opposed the bill for similar reasons.

In response to the argument, Bonta said that California does not need to wait for federal action to ensure transparency for consumers. The practice of hiding mandatory charges, he said in a statement, “is deceptive and unfair to consumers wherever it occurs — not just in certain industries.”

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Eggs of grapevine-gobbling insect snagged en route to California. Are vineyards at risk?

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Eggs of grapevine-gobbling insect snagged en route to California. Are vineyards at risk?

Eggs of the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that’s wreaked havoc on crops across more than a dozen states, were recently discovered on a metal art installation that was headed to Sonoma County, one of California’s most esteemed wine regions.

The discovery of the infamous bug’s eggs represents the first time the insect has been seen in California. The California Assn. of Winegrape Gowers, a statewide nonprofit, warns the invasive plant-hopper native to Asia has the potential to affect the entire winegrape industry in California, potentially pushing up prices if an infestation results in a smaller grape crop.

“Spotted lanternflies have been found in 18 states and have proven to pose a serious threat to vineyards,” Natalie Collins, president of the growers group, said. “These invasive insects feed on the sap of grapevines, while also leaving behind a sticky honeydew residue on the clusters and leaves.”

Impacts of the stress on the plant could range from reduced yields — and fewer bottles of wine for consumers — and, if severe and persistent enough, complete vine death and higher wine prices. No adult spotted lanterflies have been reported in the state, Collins said.

California is responsible for an average of 81% of the total U.S. wine production each year, according to the Wine Institute.

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The association warned that if there are additional egg masses in California from other shipments that haven’t been detected “they may produce adult [spotted lanternflies] in the coming weeks with peak populations expected in late summer or early fall.”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture last year developed an action plan to try to eradicate the pests if they were to enter the state. State officials have asked the public to look for egg masses outdoors. If a bug is found, they recommend grabbing it and placing it in a container where it can’t escape, snapping a photo and reporting it to the CDFA Pest Hotline at (800) 491-1899

The metal art installation on which the eggs were found was shipped to California in late March from New York, where the insects have been a persistent problem. After 11 viable egg masses were spotted at the Truckee Border Protection Station, the 30-foot-tall artwork was sent back to Nevada, where officials discovered an additional 30 egg masses. The art was power washed with detergent and then sent on its way again to Truckee, according to the association.

By the time the installation reached Sonoma County on April 4, the owner agreed to allow officials to open up the hollow beams in the artwork to inspect it further. Inside, they found an additional three egg masses and searched until they were confident no other eggs were present.

Spotted lanternflies were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and quickly spread to nearby states, where they became a nuisance. In New York they proved to be such a problem that officials encouraged residents to kill them on sight. The pest has become so notorious that it made an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in a 2022 skit where one viewer applauded them for capturing “the unbelievable hubris of the lanternfly.”

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While they feed on more than 100 different plant species, they have a particular affinity for grapevines and a tree known as the “tree of heaven.” The adults, which have the ability to fly short distances, are typically 1 inch long. At rest, with its wings folded, the bug is a dull tan-gray color with black spots. During flight, its open wings feature a bright red, black and white pattern.

The species is often described as a “hitchhiker,” since its egg masses appear similar to cakes of mud and can easily be transported on tractor trailers and semi-trucks. During the first three immature stages of the bug’s life cycle they appear to be black with white spots and later turn red and black with white spots.

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After a pandemic strike, nurses union must pay Riverside hospital millions in damages

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After a pandemic strike, nurses union must pay Riverside hospital millions in damages

The union representing nurses at Riverside Community Hospital has been ordered to pay more than $6 million to the hospital for the fallout from a 2020 strike.

The unusual financial penalty was imposed by an arbitrator who found the 10-day work stoppage during the pandemic violated the terms of the labor agreement signed by HCA Healthcare, which operates the hospital, and Service Employees International Union Local 121RN. The $6.26-million fine, the arbitrator determined, was necessary to compensate the hospital for the cost of replacing workers who walked off the job during the strike, according to a statement released Wednesday.

Nurses walked off the job in June 2020 in an effort to force the hospital to increase staffing and improve safety as COVID-19 infections surged, the union said at the time. But hospital officials argued that because nurses also voiced complaints about shortages of personal protective equipment, the reasons for the strike were too expansive to be allowed under the collective bargaining agreement the two sides had signed.

“Our contract was clear, and the union showed reckless disregard for its members and the Riverside community by calling the strike,” said Jackie Van Blaricum, president of HCA Healthcare’s Far West Division, who was the hospital’s chief executive during the strike. “We applaud the arbitrator’s decision.”

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SEIU 121RN Executive Director Rosanna Mendez objected to the arbitrator’s findings, saying nurses were permitted under their contract to go on strike. She called the arbitrator’s decision “absurd and outrageous.”

“It is absolutely shocking that an arbitrator would expect nurses to not talk about safety issues,” Mendez said, adding that the union was exploring its options to contest the arbitrator’s decision.

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Supreme Court rejects California man's attempt to trademark Trump T-shirts

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Supreme Court rejects California man's attempt to trademark Trump T-shirts

The Supreme Court on Thursday turned down a California attorney’s bid to trademark the phrase “Trump Too Small” for his exclusive use on T-shirts.

The justices said trademark law forbids the use of a living person’s name, including former President Trump.

The vote was 9-0.

Trump was not a party to the case of Vidal vs. Elster, but in the past he objected when businesses and others tried to make use of his name.

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Concord, Calif., attorney Steve Elster said he was amused in 2016 when Republican presidential candidates exchanged comments about the size of Trump’s hands during a debate. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Trump had mocked as “Little Marco,” asked Trump to hold up his hands, which he did. “You know what they say about guys with small hands,” Rubio said.

After Trump won the election, Elster decided to sell T-shirts with the phrase “Trump Too Small,” which he said was meant to criticize Trump’s lack of accomplishments on civil rights, the environment and other issues.

Legally he was free to do so, but the U.S. Patent and Copyright Office denied his request to trademark the phrase for his exclusive use.

When he appealed the denial, he won a ruling from a federal appeals court which said his “Trump Too Small” slogan was political commentary protected by the 1st Amendment.

The Biden administration’s Solicitor Gen. Elizabeth Prelogar appealed and urged the Supreme Court to reject the trademark request.

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She acknowledged that Elster had a free-speech right to mock the former president, but argued he did not have the right to “assert property rights in another person’s name.”

“For more than 75 years, Congress has directed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to refuse the registration of trademarks that use the name of a particular living individual without his written consent,” she said.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said Thursday: “Elster contends that this prohibition violates his 1st Amendment right to free speech. We hold that it does not,”

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