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California law bans restaurants from giving plastic straws automatically

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — If you want a straw with your drink or a soda with your child’s meal at a California restaurant, you’ll need to ask for them starting next year.

A law signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown makes California the first state to bar full-service restaurants from automatically giving out single-use plastic straws. Another law he approved requires milk or water to be the default drink sold with kids’ meals at fast-food and full-service restaurants.

Neither law is an outright ban on straws or sugary drinks in kids’ meals. But some Republicans have called the measures government overreach by the heavily Democratic state.

California restaurants that don’t comply with the new straw law will get two warnings before being fined up to $300 per year. It will apply only to full-service restaurants, not fast-food establishments.

Democratic lawmakers who support the policy call it a small step toward reducing ocean pollution.

Brown, who has made environmental issues a signature priority, pointed to the large amount of plastic dumped in oceans every year that can kill whales and fish and contaminate people’s food and water supplies.

“Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences,” Brown said in a statement. “Plastics, in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking the planet.”

California’s law doesn’t go as far as those in cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, that ban straws outright.

Critics argue California’s straw law won’t significantly improve the environment. Some say restricting straws hurts disabled people who rely on them.

And some lawmakers who voted against the measure said it would unfairly punish restaurants, although the restaurant industry didn’t oppose the proposal.

The sugary drink law will still let restaurants and fast food chains sell soda or juice with children’s meals. But it says only milk; a non-dairy milk alternative; or sparkling, still or flavored water can be handed out as a default and advertised on the menu.

Democratic Sen. Bill Monning says his measure aims to combat diabetes, obesity and other health problems in California.

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