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Vote expected on revised Calif. labeling bill

SACRAMENTO Calif. In a victory for California’s chain restaurants, proponents of a state menu-labeling bill agreed Friday to narrow the range of outlets that would be covered and to grant those places two means of complying until January 2011. Branches of chains with at least 20 units within the state would have a choice until that date of either posting calorie information on menus and menu boards or offering more detailed nutrition statistics in brochures available on request.

Applicable restaurants would have to choose an option as of July 2009, and all would have to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards as of 2011.

The measure is expected to be put to a vote later this week.

Under an earlier form of the bill championed by state Sens. Alex Padilla and Carole Migden, units of chains with at least 15 locations in the state would have been required to list calorie, fat, carbohydrate and sodium content on their menus or menu boards as of 2011. A virtually identical bill was passed by the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who called it impractical.

The amendments to the Padilla-Migden bill, SB 1420, had been sought by the California Restaurant Association. The compromises were still being worked out on Monday.

CRA president and chief executive Jot Condie said those compromises also would include language that would protect restaurant operators from lawsuits if nutrition information posted is found to be incorrect, provided that it wasn’t deliberately misleading.

The CRA was still hoping for more changes to the legislation, including a delay in the calorie-posting deadline to July 2011.

Condie said the association is also pressing to allow restaurants to calculate and post per-serving information for items that are shared, such as family-style entrees and appetizer and dessert samplers.

Akey element of the compromise bill, Condie said, is a provision that pre-empts local lawmakers from adopting more stringent menu-labeling requirements. He explained that the goal is to ensure that California operators are not forced to deal with requirements that vary by jurisdiction. San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, for example, passed menu-labeling legislation earlier this year, and another measure is under consideration in Los Angeles County. The pre-emption component would go into effect Jan. 1, 2009, said Condie, who added that he hoped it would deter other areas from passing their own mandates.

"Our hope is that the cities will be reasonable and see that it's a waste of their time and confusing to the consumers," Condie said.

Amenu-labeling requirement is in effect for some chain restaurants in New York City, and one is slated to take effect soon in King County, Wash., which encompasses Seattle.

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