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California passes plastic bag ban, would be first such law in U.S.

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SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) – The California state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags on Friday near the end of its two-year session, a measure that if signed into law would become the first of its kind in America.

A number of cities and counties in California and other U.S. states, including Hawaii’s Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack purchases in plastic. But at the state level, opposition from plastic bag makers has usually prevailed.

The California Senate voted 22-15 for the bill, which must be signed into law by Sept. 30 by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has not signaled a position on the measure.

“Single-use plastic bags not only litter our beaches, but also our mountains, our deserts, and our rivers, streams and lakes,” said state Senator Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill.

Padilla backed a similar measure last year but it failed by three votes. The fate of this bill was uncertain until the waning hours of the session after falling three votes short in the state’s Assembly on Monday.

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But after picking up the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the bill passed a second vote in the Assembly.

The measure would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use grocery bags with customers’ purchases, and provide money to local plastic bag companies to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags that customers could buy.

Environmentalists have pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, could harm ocean life.

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After the defeat of his earlier bill, Padilla won the support of some California-based bag makers by including the funding for retooling. But in recent months, out-of-state manufacturers campaigned against the bill, even producing television advertisements targeting Padilla, who is running for secretary of state.

Cathy Browne, general manager at Crown Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in Huntington Park, California, said the bill would lead to layoffs at companies like hers.

More than 10 billion plastic bags are used in California each year, according to an estimate by Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group supporting the bill.

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By Aaron Mendelson, Reuters, 2014

[image of firemen carrying plastic bags in CA via Reuters]


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US senator calls for investigation into FaceApp over security concerns

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Popular Russia-based application FaceApp, which allows users to change their appearance to look older or younger, came under fire in the United States Wednesday, with one senator urging an FBI investigation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the FBI and the FTC, the US consumer protection body, to "look into the national security & privacy risks" connected to FaceApp, which is used by millions of Americans but was developed by a Saint Petersburg-based company.

"FaceApp's location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments," the New York senator said in a letter to the FBI.

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First US murder conviction overturned using DNA, family tree evidence

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An American man was exonerated Wednesday for a decades-old murder he did not commit, using evidence based on DNA and a genetic family tree, the first such result using a revolutionary investigative technique.

Christopher Tapp, 43, had served 20 of his 30-year sentence for the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge.

On Wednesday, a court in the state of Idaho completely overturned his conviction based on evidence found with "genetic genealogy" -- the technique used to identify the suspected "Golden State Killer" by making DNA matches with his distant relatives.

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Buzz Aldrin has landed — for the Apollo 11 anniversary

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The suspense had been building for 24 hours: would Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, show up Wednesday night in Huntsville, Alabama -- nicknamed "Rocket City" for the nearby NASA space flight center?

Public appearances by the former astronaut, now 89, are rare. On Tuesday, he left his former Apollo 11 crewmate Michael Collins in the lurch.

Aldrin declined to join him at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the two were supposed to appear together on NASA TV to mark the 50th anniversary of their mission (Neil Armstrong died in 2012).

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