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SF shelves cell phone radiation ordinance

After a lawsuit from a cell phone trade group, San Francisco's Right to Know ordinance has been put on an indefinite hold. Amended legislation, however, will likely come in its place.

San Francisco officials have indefinitely delayed implementation of the city's Right to Know ordinance, which would have required retailers to display a phone's Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) at the point of sale and distribute materials educating consumers on cell phone radiation. A revamped version of the legislation is likely to be introduced in its place, but no further details have been announced.

First passed last June, the ordinance (PDF) quickly prompted a lawsuit from the wireless industry's lobbying arm, the CTIA. In addition to claiming that the law was unconstitutional because only the FCC and FDA have oversight over radio frequency emissions, the CTIA contended that the SAR provision was misleading to consumers and that it infringed on the First Amendment rights of retailers.

As a result of the lawsuit, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors delayed the ordinance's implementation date several times--most recently to June 15--and held two closed door meetings with City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office to discuss the issue. Board members wouldn't tell CNET what transpired during the meetings nor would they comment on the CTIA's warning that the city would be stuck with its legal fees if the trade group won the lawsuit.

It's clear, however, that the city isn't backing down completely. Supervisor John Avalos, who voted for the measure last year, could introduce amended legislation as early as next week. Though Frances Hsieh, one of Avalos' legislative aides, wouldn't discuss specifics, it's expected that any amendment will remove the SAR provisions.

"We're working with the Mayor's Office, the City Attorney's Office, and advocacy groups to vet out the specifics," she said. "We want a solid set of amendments when we introduce them."

Ellen Marks, the director of government and public affairs for the Environmental Health Trust, supported the original legislation. Marks said she's fine if the SAR provision is removed from the ordinance, but she'd like to see something similar to a new California State Senate bill that would require a radio-frequency warning label on phones and product packaging.

The ordinance "is only a temporary hold," she told CNET. "I have positive feelings that the city will stand up to this frivolous lawsuit and move forward with amendments."

A CTIA representative said in an e-mail that the group had no comment on San Francisco's decision at this time.