A California Law Banning Hidden Fees Goes Into Effect Next Month


Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation last fall that would make it illegal for businesses in California to tack on fees beyond their listed prices, like a “resort fee” at a hotel or a service charge that inflates the cost of a concert ticket.

Supporters applauded, saying that hidden fees were deceptive and hurt consumers. “California now has the most effective piece of legislation in the nation to tackle this problem,” Rob Bonta, the state attorney general, said. “The price Californians see will be the price they pay.”

The law takes effect July 1. But now there’s a chance that it won’t apply to all businesses.

Restaurant owners have argued that they should be exempted, because they are already struggling to survive in a challenging market.

Many restaurants charge such fees these days. A menu may list a price of, say, $25 for a plate of penne puttanesca, but then the house adds a 5 percent fee to fund the employees’ health insurance plan. Another may charge $25 for pad Thai, and then a mandatory 20 percent service fee on top of that.

The new law would forbid that practice. Instead, those restaurants would have to include any such costs in their listed prices — so in those examples, $26.25 for the penne puttanesca and $30 for the pad Thai. (The only extra costs that could be added to the listed price, according to the law, would be taxes and shipping fees.)

Some restaurant owners said raising menu prices that way without providing the context could hurt their business. And if they dropped the charges without raising listed prices, in an effort to stay competitive, that would mean reducing their already slim profit margins, or even laying off staff, owners said.

“The system itself, as we know, is clearly broken,” Vanda Asapahu, who owns Ayara Thai in Los Angeles, told The New York Times last month. “I wish I did not have to depend on service charges to give my team a living wage.”

In response to the restaurant owners’ complaints, State Senator Bill Dodd, Democrat of Napa and a coauthor of the new law, returned to the Legislature last week with a new bill that would exempt restaurants, bars and other food service providers from the requirements.

Under the new bill, known as S.B. 1524, restaurants would be allowed to charge a mandatory gratuity or any other surcharge or fee, as long as it is displayed “clearly and conspicuously” on the menu. The bill’s supporters are hoping to get it through the Legislature by the end of the month, when the new law takes effect.

“Restaurants are vital to the fabric of life in California, and they should be able to cover costs as long as they do so transparently,” said State Senator Scott Wiener, Democrat of San Francisco and a coauthor of the new bill. “S.B. 1524 clarifies portions of the law that pose a serious threat to restaurants. The bill strikes the right balance between supporting restaurants and delivering transparency for consumers, and I’m proud to support it.”

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The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County wants the public’s help to name a new dinosaur display that will serve as the centerpiece of a welcome center it is building, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The 70-foot-long sauropod skeleton was unearthed by the museum’s paleontologists in southeast Utah between 2007 and 2019, and is made up of about 350 fossils.

Participants in an online poll will have until June 20 to choose among five names: Gnatalie, Sage, Verdi, Esme or Olive. The quirky spelling of Gnatalie refers to the gnats that plagued workers at the dig site.

The winning name will be announced on June 25.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Halina Bennet and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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